Source: International Mission Board, December 10, 2018
Johann Hinrich Wichern (1808-1881) was eager to find a way to spread God’s message among the people in Hamburg. He worked as a missionary among the poor. In 1833, he founded a school called Rauhes Haus (“Rough House”) to redeem and serve neglected children and orphans by feeding, housing, and educating them.
To help contain the children’s excitement leading up to December 25, he created the first Advent wreath. The first wreath had 24 candles. The four largest candles indicated the Sundays of Advent. During daily prayer, a child lit a candle each day up until Christmas Eve when all the candles were finally illuminated.
Many Germans today simply enjoy Advent wreaths as centerpieces on their table. Although the tradition was born in their country, they may be unaware of the symbolic meaning the wreath holds.
» Read full story. It includes more on historic and contemporary Christianity and Christmas practices in Germany.
» Then read A Look at Christianity in Post-evangelized Germany (Missions Network News).
Source: Beyond, December 13, 2018
When “Sanjay” and some fellow followers of Christ decided to celebrate the Christmas season with caroling, they knew to be discreet. After all, they lived in northern India, where persecution of Christians is an everyday threat. Casually going into the streets singing to random strangers was not an option. No, they purposed to only go to the homes of friends like Raja. Raja was not yet a follower of Jesus but he was regularly participating in one of the local Bible studies. Surely it would be okay to sing outside his house? They assembled at Raja’s home and had begun singing when the front door flew open and a man shot into their midst. It was Raja’s older brother, Charan.
With a machete-like knife in his hand, the irate man lunged into the crowd of carolers. Charan first destroyed the drum they were playing and then began slashing wildly toward the people. He got close enough to cut one man’s shirt, but thankfully no blood was drawn. The carolers quickly left and reported this incident to the police. Some officers accompanied them back to Raja’s home, but by the time they arrived, Charan had fled. After the officers left, Sanjay and the others prayed for Raja and his whole family.
About one week had passed when Sanjay’s phone rang. It was Charan. He explained that he had turned himself into the police and asked if Sanjay could come down to the station. As soon as Sanjay arrived, Charan bent down, touched Sanjay’s feet three times (a gesture of respect) and said, “I am very sorry. You are a good person.” God had been at work in the lives of Raja’s family, and, because of this incident, all of Raja’s family except Charan decided to become Christians.
Source: Christian Freedom, December 14, 2018
It’s been a tough year for Pakistani Christians. A crackdown in Thailand forced [Pakistani] Christian refugees who fled there to scatter in fear. It was too risky for the refugee kids to go to school, so the teachers went to them, finding students in their hiding places to keep up on their lessons.
Since the school meeting place was no longer secure, the director found a new location. It needed work. Lots of it. Toilets and faucets were broken. Water stains on walls. Rats and cockroaches. Water pump burned out. Few lights. So teachers, students, parents, and friends all pitched in.
The director told us: “I gathered the students, bought the materials: paint, lights, toilet cleaners and detergents, trash bins and bags. [I] invited some adult men [and] gave them all a pep talk that it is a privilege for us that we get the honor to build this school piece by piece. …We cannot leave the future of our children and nation in the hands of others. …None of the Pakistani people who would come to work asked for any money, but only for food and tea. Both the children and adults happily worked for long hours.”
» Speaking of refugees, read the continuing story of a North Korean teenager whose family escaped to China. After studying in a Christian university in the US, she now hopes to return to Asia to serve in ministry through business (Lausanne Movement).
Source: Barnabas Fund, November 6, 2018
Police in Uzbekistan arrested 43 converts to Christianity from Islam, including a number of teenagers, and later tried to get them to appear in court in front of TV cameras in an apparent show trial.
Police put considerable pressure on a number of the arrested converts, even attempting to recruit some to work for the police as informers. Several were forced into giving incriminating written statements against the organizers and leaders of the gathering. The converts face[d] charges of “illegal assembly” and potential fines of up to the equivalent of US$2,500 if found guilty.
[At the October 23] hearing many of the Christians facing charges refused to enter the courtroom because there were cameramen and TV journalists present, and they did not wish to be part of a show trial. The judge again postponed the hearing, which was eventually held on October 30.
The presiding judge ordered the TV journalists not to film the trial proceedings, but they were permitted to film the verdicts. All the Christians charged were found guilty, but only received minimum fines, equivalent to between US$75 [and] US$500. Police subsequently promised to reduce the fine for any of the converts who agreed to be interviewed for TV.
» Read about the Silk Road Transmitter, a project to help support the persecuted church and make Bible programs available to some 60 million people in Central Asia (Trans World Radio, via Mission Network News).
Source: Open Doors, December 17, 2018
Last week, Open Doors reported that one of China’s largest house churches had been raided by police resulting in arrests of more than 100 Christians, including church leader Wang Yi, one of China’s most well-known pastors.
Pastor Wang Yi has been charged with “inciting subversion of state power,” a crime that could result in a sentence of up to five years, but up to 15 years in extreme cases.
Two days after he was arrested and taken away, church members released an open letter he wrote in September [with] instructions that it be publicized if he went missing for more than 48 hours.
» See also China Closes Megachurches Before Christmas (Christianity Today).
Source: Great Commission Challenge, December 15, 2018
Where are we at in the Great Commission? How much farther do we have to go? What are frontier people groups and why are they important? This succinct summary will answer many questions and help to guide missions prayer, partners, and strategy.
» Finishing the Task recently reported that the last unreached, unengaged people group has been “adopted” by a missions organization committed to seeing that group engaged in two years (Mission Network News).
By Shane Bennett
I discovered a cultural artifact while cleaning out an old garage this past weekend: a lawn dart, or “jart,” as it was known by ancient practitioners of the sport, like me as a kid. Picture the scene. Youth group on an Indiana summer evening. A youth flung a dart both high and erratic into a maple tree. It disappeared among the leaves maybe 20 feet up, then began to pachinko down through the branches toward Scott Johnson’s head.
I don’t remember the sound of the impact, but I do recall the look of surprise in Scott’s eyes and my first real-life example of the expression, “the color drained from his face.” If your mind (sadly) works like mine, you’re wondering if the dart stuck. It didn’t. But “jarts” were subsequently banned in the United States and replaced with an inferior version featuring a much safer weighted bulb on the end which no one likes.
Ever find yourselves in Scott’s shoes at Christmastime? You’re feeling cheery. You even posted a picture of your tree on Instagram. But the noise in the branches above portends doom. There’s a rustling in the hedge and you are alarmed.
At the first Christmas, Mary the mom set the tone for this double-edged dart. She sings an amazing song delighting that God has chosen her and is the sort of God who helps the helpless. She replies to the life-changing news, “Let it be as you have said.” She hears dear old Simeon prophesy that her baby will be salvation and glory and light! Yet Simeon also looks in her eyes with tears in his and says, “A sword will pierce your very soul.” Ugh, isn’t this life?
So where are you this Christmas? Are you walking in the glow of Jesus revealing God to the nations? If so, I rejoice with you. This really is a good time of year. People try a little harder, give a little more, and work to create situations infused with warmth and laughter.
And let’s face it, this fairly normal birth in a nondescript little town was delivering not just a sweet baby but the very kingdom of God on earth. Ample reason to celebrate Christmas!
Maybe you’re doing your best to be warm and fuzzy and happy this Christmas. You’re lighting up Pinterest. You didn’t correct the young clerk who said, “Happy Holidays.” Although you got that one person the perfect gift, you’re not going to let their reaction shape the whole holiday for you. Even so, you feel the weight of Simeon’s sword. You sympathize with Mary because you’re walking a similar path. You know how important Jesus is, but it’s pretty darn hard to be happy right now.
Can I guess at a couple reasons Missions Catalyst readers might struggle during Christmas?Where you live, you’re the only ones who celebrate.
Trouble is, you still look at Facebook. Though the conviction that God wants you where you are is strong, your sadness and homesickness are strong as well. Your less-than-amazing success makes you wonder why you even bother. In less-guarded moments, you think, “These people don’t even want what I have. Why are we even here?”
And just when you get those thoughts taken captive, up pops the question, “How can you do this to your kids, to your parents?” The sword didn’t pierce Mary’s soul because she was dumb or doing the wrong thing. It was the nature of the path God had called her to walk. True as that is, it doesn’t always soften the sting of the cut.You wish your kids were home this Christmas.
When they were in college, you would cry at the Folgers Coffee commercial. Now that they’re in Faroffistan, you can’t even watch it. It feels selfish wanting them around your table instead of off inviting people to come to God’s table. Even so (the refrain of life), it’s hard and, frankly, no one gets it.
Here’s a challenge for the rest of us: Should God open the door this Christmas season for you to talk to one of these moms or dads, bless their socks off. You probably know how to do that better than I do, but at least tell them, “The pain is real. I see it. God sees it. And God sees you.”
I’d love to hear what you’d say as a blessing to parents of far-off kids. If God invites you to go beyond that, go ahead and buy them a ticket to go see their kids!Your heart’s broken by the broken world.
Maybe the sword piercing your soul has to do with a million Muslim Uyghurs in captivity in China. Or hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees in squalid conditions in Bangladesh. Or overlooked Yemenis marking the turn of another year still in fear of a war that won’t end. So many people in such tough situations, many with no living witness to the child who came to “reveal God to the nations” (Luke 2:32).
It’s a little hard to celebrate with your people when so many others face unimaginable challenges. I feel for you. And part of me wants to tell you, “Learn to compartmentalize! It will help you get through life!”
Remember the Bob Pierce quote, “Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.” Solid request. I also appreciate the Steve Hawthorne corollary, “Let my heart be delighted by the things that delight the heart of God!” May we somehow experience both.
Want to know my current favorite Christmas song? Phil Wickham’s When My Heart Is Torn. He captures something of the challenge of this season and the shifting status of our hearts, reminding us of solid hope to walk the path God has laid out, to join Mary in both the joy and the pain.
“There is hope
Beyond the suffering
Joy beyond the tears
Peace in every tragedy
Love that conquers fear.
My body might be dying
But I’ll always be alive.”
You know what’s really going to be fun? Celebrating Jesus’s birthday with him in the age to come. In the meantime, may God give us grace, through the sunshine and swords, to sing along with Mary (and John, Paul, George, and Ringo!), “Let it be, let it be.”
- CENTRAL ASIA: Facebooking the Unreached
- UNITED KINGDOM: The Art of Conversation
- TURKEY: Iranian Church Leaders Find Healing from Traumas
- INDIA: Chau—Failure, Martyr, or What?
- AFRICA: How Busyness Consumed My Life
A leader of OM’s art ministry recently helped organize an art exhibition in partnership with a local church in one of the most ethnically diverse parts of the UK. See The Art of Conversation, below (Operation Mobilization).
Source: Lausanne Global Analysis, November 2018
“Noor” was used to dangerous living after several decades in a highly volatile region he likes to call the “Middle Earth” of Central Asia. Now back in Canada with his wife, he did not want his years of experience and insight to go to waste and fade into retirement. Why not put a new strategy for the kingdom in place using Facebook, something his adopted people group use in great numbers?
Now Noor found himself back on the familiar dusty streets of the bazaar on a short visit, looking to meet up face to face with “Ahmad,” a new friend who had contacted him via the Facebook page saying “I am like you, let us meet!”
Naturally, suspicions were running high on both sides, but the obvious risks were worth it. There was no doubt Ahmad knew that Noor was a follower of Isa al Masih and was using his online presence to share Jesus and his teachings with members of a people group who are particularly hard to engage with the gospel in their home country, as well as countless others displaced abroad.
Via Facebook Messenger voice and text chats, the plan had been set in motion for Noor to meet Ahmad at his shop located in one of the busiest markets in the entire nation. Now the time had come, and Noor was barely noticeable, bearded and dressed in the local way, as he looked across the street at the place Ahmad had arranged.
“Ahmad?” he asked of the gentleman in the local language as he stepped into the small, poorly lit shop. A young man looked up and replied, “No. What can I do for you?” “Just tell Ahmad that the old guy came by to say hi. The guy that does the Facebook.”
With that, Noor took his leave and could not help but notice the assistant’s eyes following his every move. Was he recognized as a foreigner? Did the assistant suspect ill intention against his employer? Was this stranger simply just crazy?
A half hour passed until Ahmad phoned with further instructions. “Let us meet in the tea shop; it is not good to meet in my shop.” A fascinating hour of deep, spiritual discussion ensued, partly from Scripture. Eighteen months later, Ahmad began to testify, “I believe what you say about Jesus.”
What joy it is for Noor and Ahmad to be journeying together, as well as with hundreds of others in various stages of exploring the claims of Jesus. Noor sees himself as a simple servant and messenger of God who risks his life and is willing to forego his sleep schedule and comfort to post, engage, and eventually meet those who appear most interested in the Good News in a time zone that could not be more opposite.
» Full story explores opportunities and obstacles to social media outreach. Interesting stuff.
» See also How to Implement a Media Strategy to Reach Diaspora Peoples (Missio Nexus) and another article about a social media strategy helping Muslims engage with God’s Word (Frontiers).
Source: OM Stories, November 27, 2018
“The community were so open and friendly,” says Janice, leader of OM’s art ministry in the UK, who recently helped organize an art exhibition in partnership with a local church in northern Manchester. The event was planned as part of the community-wide Cheetham Hill Cultural Festival in England. The area of Cheetham Hill is one of the most ethnically diverse areas in the UK; a 2011 census highlighted that 48 percent of residents did not speak English as their first language.
The exhibition showcased various pieces of art from both Janice and others in the community. “There was one piece I painted that people visiting the exhibition gravitated to. I originally intended the painting to symbolize Jesus pouring out his life for us, and us having this treasure in jars of clay,” Janice explained.
However, for people with minimal knowledge of the Christian faith, this may have been an unusual concept, so “when people of other faiths showed an interest in the painting, I told them the story of the Samaritan women, and how Jesus is the living water, and how we can know him.”
One man whom Janice spoke to was particularly interested by this story. “I was born a Muslim,” he said. “But just because you are born a Muslim, it doesn’t necessarily mean that is the truth. I have been looking into other religions because I want to know the truth.”
One of the standout pieces of artwork from the weekend was one far more permanent than the rest of the exhibition. “It was amazing to see Chris Steinz, from the Netherlands, who came for just two days and managed to paint a whole wall in the hall with the Lord’s Prayer,” says Janice. “This hall is used in the winter as a night shelter for homeless men; what a testimony to have them lay down to sleep under the glow of the electric wall heaters and read the Lord’s Prayer.”
» See also Use Arts and Media to Advance the Gospel (Pioneers).
Source: Open Doors, November 20, 2018
Earlier this year, more than 30 Iranian ex-prisoners jailed for their faith recently participated in a trauma care training in Turkey [and shared] how God has used this training to impact them both personally and in their current ministries.
Wahid now pastors a church of 200 in Turkey. For him, the training allowed him to be transparent with believers who understood firsthand what he has gone through.
“As a former Iranian prisoner, I have often felt alone and thought nobody cared about me. …You showed me I’m not alone. In daily life, I find it difficult to talk about my time in prison; it’s a horrible story. And, as a leader, it’s a big temptation to pretend you are stronger than you actually are. To heal from my experience is a painful process. Some wounds are healed; others not yet. But, with the experiences and teaching at the training event, I have become stronger as a leader.”
Former house church leader Mojtaba is now counseling fellow Persian-speaking believers in Turkey, which initially triggered difficult memories. The trauma care training helped him understand what he needed to do to stay physically and spiritually healthy and able to counsel others.
“I learned how to create a safe space for myself. While I am counseling people, [I sometimes get caught up in] their problems. Now, I have learned to keep a certain distance. In the long run, this will mean I can do more for them. Creating this safe space has helped me stay healthy in the last few months while I have continued counseling, and during which time there was also conflict in my church. Despite the many emotions, I stayed physically and mentally healthy. I don’t get dizzy anymore.
“Sharing about my prison time also reminded me about the lesson God taught me there: ‘Be silent, I will be close to you.’ I try to apply that lesson to my life again. I don’t want to speak up anymore just to receive recognition from other people. I don’t want others to see me as an important person because I spend time in prison for my faith. I am no more than any other Christian: I need God just as all of us do. And I need him now too. So I try to focus on him first.”
Source: Justin Long, November 29, 2018
The news of John Chau’s death while attempting to bring the gospel to a very remote, hostile, restricted-access region hit the mainstream news some days ago. Since then, there’s been quite a lot of chatter about it, with lots of people trying to make sense of it.
I am trying to hold myself back. My natural inclination is to write and tweet and talk, but I am reminding myself of this: we don’t know the whole story. And we may never know it.
We, as people, want to “judge”: either in the best or worst sense of the word. Our brains want to categorize, we want to put things in boxes, because that’s how we make sense of it, how we understand it.
We could classify Chau as a martyr—a person who died, almost gloriously, for the sake of the cause. Similarities to Elliot are obvious.
We could classify Chau as a failure—a person who rushed headstrong into the situation without adequate training or preparation or effective strategy.
It would be easy to do either. But we don’t know, and we don’t have enough data to know.
Let’s take a different example. What if someone trained and planned to be a Bible translator in, say, Africa. They prepared for years. They were expecting to spend decades on the field, working on learning language, translating Scriptures, etc. They arrive on the field, excited–and were killed two days later in a freak accident.
Knowing these additional details—the length of preparation, the length of time they planned to stay there, the scope of the work they envisioned, the nature of their death—how does this change our opinion of what happened? Were they martyrs? Were they failures? Or is this just a tragedy—a life cut short?
What if they were killed in a robbery gone wrong? Are they martyrs? What if you knew that in the midst of the robbery they were witnessing as best they could to the robbers? Would they then be martyrs, because they died in a situation of witness?
What if they were assassinated by radicals bent on killing Christian translators in the area? What if they knew the danger and yet went there any way, and were killed? Were they foolish?
There are many details we don’t know, and likely never will this side of heaven.
» Justin also suggests: John Chau, Missions, and Fools (Ed Stetzer, Christianity Today) and Slain Missionary Prepared More Than We Thought, But Are Missionaries Still Fools? (Ed Stetzer, this time for the Washington Post), All Nations Clears Up Some False Assumptions about Chau’s Missionary Work (Denny Burk) and an interview with Dr. Scott James on infectuous diseases and isolated peoples (J.D. Payne, Strike the Match).
Source: World Venture, November 13, 2018
It took coming to Africa to learn how much busyness has consumed my life. I live in a culture where people work hard, but once they finish, they rest. They spend time with friends. It is a social culture. Many people have no problem sitting around doing nothing when it is not their turn to work. I came with no clear schedule, but with this addiction of always doing something. I started with language learning.
So, if I left my house at 8 am and was interacting with people until about 8 pm I felt satisfied as if I am actually doing the work people sent me here to do. If I got home at 6 pm, there wasn’t quite that much satisfaction. This last year, I lived with girls so my “work” wasn’t just in town, but it was at home—a 24/7 job.
I had this mindset that there are churches and people who have sent me over here to do ministry [and] I needed to represent them well. They have given me money, are praying for me, and if I am sitting at home during the day, I am betraying them. So I did crazy things [to] fill up my schedule.
Most days, I would only be living off of five or six hours of sleep. It is really hot here, and the culture and language can be exhausting. I am not saying this to show you how motivated I am or how much work I am doing. I am telling you this because it is a big problem and not a good thing.
This summer God spoke to me, and asked me why I felt this need to be busy. Why do I need to be going all the time? I am not going to save the world. I can’t even save one person. Jesus is the Savior, not me.
» Read full story and pray for anyone you know who could have written an article like this. Could even be someone you see in the mirror.
Looking for tools to inspire your church, small group, or family for God’s global purposes? This issue features a bunch of new resources for missions education. Check them out! (Image: Momentum)
Source: Weave Family
Here’s a new children’s curriculum you will want to have! These three, high-quality related resources are designed to open kids’ hearts to peoples around the world who have never heard of Jesus and help each family find their role in God’s global story.
One Big Story: Discover God’s Purposes in His Word
These 52 family devotions walk you through God’s Word chronologically over the course of a year, revealing God’s purpose of blessing the nations revealed through the ways he blesses his people. 68 pages.
One Big Vision: Embrace God’s Love for the World
Through simple activities that can be woven into your daily life, your family will learn about the peoples of the earth who are unreached with the gospel. Stories and coloring pages bring into the daily lives of children from different people groups and religious blocks. Learn about what their lives are like, what they believe, and how to pray for them. 68 pages.
One Big Adventure: Explore Your Role in God’s Work
Meet Sophia, Sung Min, Arianna, Victor, and Amira—five ordinary kids who are changing the world with their families. Discover the different roles your family can play as characters in God’s story. 38 pages.
All the materials are written for families who have children ages 5-12, though One Big Vision includes activities to help older children go further in learning about worldviews.
» Learn more or download the digital copies of all three books and supplemental resources for free! Registration required. Thank you, Weave Team. These look great.
Want them in print? You can purchase physical books separately (US$8.95 each) or as a bundle (US$21.95) within the United States.
» See also Windows on the World, an Operation World resource designed for kids. The new, revised edition just came out!
Maybe you’re looking for something to use with a church class or small group ministry… something that looks at Scripture, the state of the world, and ways to respond. This one may be just what you need.
Momentum is a free, online video-based curriculum for churches and small groups. Born in 2012 as a discipleship class at Crossroads Christian Church in Evansville, Indiana, it’s designed to invite everyday people to rethink God’s mission, the call of the church, and their individual roles. Use it for six 90-minute sessions or divide lessons in half for a dozen 45-minute sessions. Looks like you can personalize it for your context, too.
» Learn more, watch the videos, and download materials. You won’t need to sign up for anything but you can contact the creators with questions.
Source: Bethlehem College and Seminary
God’s Mission and Christian Missions: God’s Global Glory and the Unfinished Task. Minneapolis, MN: Bethlehem College and Seminary, 2018 edition. 120-page download (student workbook; instructor guide also available).
Looking for a theologically rich resource to help a group understand and embrace God’s global purposes? This six-week course unpacks the truth that God is on a mission to fill the earth with his glory through his redeemed people. Students will examine key biblical passages and provocative questions related to a God-centered perspective on Christian missions and why ambassadors for the gospel must be sent to every people group.
In addition to inductive study of the Bible, lessons require participants to listen to four sermons and a conference by John Piper, all posted on the Desiring God website.
» Learn more or download materials. No cost and no registration required.
» Just need encouragement God can use you? Check out a new five-day Bible reading plan from Frontiers and the YouVersion Bible app. It’s called Christ In You: Living Into Your Life’s Purpose.
Source: InterVarsity Press
Women in God’s Mission: Accepting the Invitation to Serve and Lead, by Mary T. Lederleitner. IVP Books, 2018. 240 pages.
Mission researcher Mary Lederleitner, author of Cross-Cultural Partnerships, surveyed 95 respected women in mission leadership from 30 countries. The author shares their experiences in their own words and identifies best practices and key traits of thriving leaders.
Readers will appreciate the author’s commitment to honoring those who hold diverse views about gender roles without failing to address the realities of gender discrimination. I found this book well written, carefully documented, and rich with examples. The suggestions for how husbands and colleagues can help women thrive were also helpful. I’d recommend this book to both men and women.
» Purchase from Amazon (or elsewhere).
» I also just finished another new book from IVP, Eddie Byun’s Praying for Your Missionary: How Prayers from Home Can Reach the Nations. Might make a good gift for senders and supporters. I’ll post a review on Amazon.
Source: Missions Catalyst Events Calendar
December 4-6, Finishing the Task Conference (Lake Forest, CA, USA).
December 13, Factors Affecting Asian American Participation in World Missions (online). Webinar from Missio Nexus.
December 13-14, Support Raising Bootcamp (Orlando, FL, USA). Provided by Support Raising Solutions.
December 26-29, Chinese Missions Conference (Houston, TX, USA).
December 27-31, Urbana Conference (St. Louis, MO, USA). Intervarsity’s triennial student missions conference.
…and here’s a preview of January events:
January 2-5, Cross Conference (Louisville, KY, USA). Student missions conference.
January 9 to June 28, School of Global Harvest (Chiang Mai, Thailand). Provided by SVM2.
January 11-12, The Journey Deepens (Bellevue, WA, USA). Provided by Mission Next.
» View the complete calendar. We’d be grateful for your help in rounding up the details for 2019 events that should be added to this calendar. Just shoot us an email! If you want to know more about a specific event, though, contact the event organizers.
By Shane Bennett
In our current culture wars, I would like to think I choose my battles carefully. The evidence might indicate otherwise. Certainly, I’m prone to be judgmental toward people who engage with great tenacity on different issues than I do. For example, I could hardly care less if someone says happy holidays or merry Christmas. And I recently went on record saying it was cool that two particular Democrats were elected to Congress (because they were Muslim women, not because they were Democrats).
That said, without getting all whiny about Christmas chattel in Walmart already, I want to plant a flag, wave a flag, or do something with a flag that says, “Thanksgiving is cool” in big, bold, pumpkin-spice-scented letters!
Thanksgiving is essentially what a holiday should be: family, friends, food, and conversation all infused with this warm and grateful internal realization, “Ah, I’m not dead. You’re not dead either. Woohoo! This is good.”
If you hold to the basic tenets of Christianity, we of all people should be given over to gratitude. An uncreated Creator, omnipotent and omniscient, likes us. He went to great lengths to bring us back to himself. And he offers complete forgiveness and purpose-filled life forever starting now! That’s worth a hearty thank you very much. (Tweet this.)
Here’s the trouble: As mobilizers, we spend a good chunk of our time pointing out what isn’t done yet, the difference between what we see now and a completed Great Commission. We talk about needs and suffering. We’ve learned that response often correlates to how bleakly we paint the picture, and funding follows fear.
My purpose here isn’t to encourage you to stop that, but rather, given that reality, to inspire in us a fresh focus on thankfulness. You may or may not need a reminder. I do. About once a week.
Why go big on gratefulness?1. The Bible says so.
Since you can probably quote Paul’s admonitions to gratitude better than I can, let me back up to Jesus for some biblical basis: In Matthew 5:14-16 Jesus says,“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
I wouldn’t split a denomination over this, but I think part of what makes our “light shine before men” is gratitude. When we’re thankful, the light of Jesus shines and people glorify God. I love it when that happens!2. Gratitude reflects reality.
If we rightly understand the fundamental aspects of reality—that we exist, that we know it, that we exist and know it because of a good God, these naturally engender gratitude. You and I have life. And because of God we have hope.3. Gratitude reshapes our psyche, outlook, and future.
According to Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast, “It is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” For a three-and-a-half-minute elaboration on this, check out Brene Brown. For ten change-your-life minutes, watch Ann VosKamp unpack the science and practicality of gratitude.4. Thankfulness lifts others around us.
I am blessed when I hear people honestly express a sense of gratitude. When they’re grateful for me, of course, but really, regardless of what they’re thankful for. I love to read expressions of gratitude on Facebook and the list of “praises” that often go next to “prayer requests” on ministry newsletters. Oh sure, a little jealousy might sneak in when someone says, “I’m just so thankful that we’re at 118% of our support goal after these arduous five weeks of effort,” but you know, usually I’m blessed!5. There are so many things for which to be grateful.
For mission mobilizers, the list is long. Although much work remains to be done, God has done so much already. And we live in a time when the growth of his kingdom is staggering. Skim Robby Butler’s article to feel the joy and hope being birthed in some 650 current movements to Jesus around the world.
Two final thoughts to make this as down-in-the-dirt practical as possible:Who should we thank?
- Thank God! More and more and more. He has been so good to you and me.
- If you raise funds, thank your donors. (This is for me. Of course, you thank your donors!)
- Thank your parents. Most of us could do this more than we do.
- Thank people before they die. A nice obituary is honorable. Tell them before they die and it really rocks.
You’re a grown up and probably already have eight ways you’re doing this and four more you’re considering. Even so, I’d like to invite you into a little experiment: I’ve set up a Google doc for Missions Catalyst readers to daily write down what they’re thankful for between now and US Thanksgiving Day on November 22. Simply scroll down to the correct date and write a couple or three things you’re thankful for.
Join me in doing this for each of the next nine days and we will have begun to form a habit. I’m pretty sure I’ll be better for it. Will you join me? I’ll be grateful if you do!
Some of the most potent expressions of gratitude come when your life has spun out of control and darkness has descended like a heavy blanket. I’m writing this in the aftermath of having lost the most important earthly relationship of my life. Much is in question. The way forward is unclear. The pain intense. Even so, I want to practice gratitude.
I’m thankful that Miss Bowers taught me to type in high school. I’m grateful that the current Colorado snowpack is 170% of average and may mean we won’t be plagued by drought next summer. And I’m thankful to be a part of a tribe with you all. Children of God. Loved. Chosen. Anointed. Empowered. And sent.
I don’t know how dark your days are right now. Maybe the worst you’ve seen. Know this: I’m thankful for you and I’m thankful with you.