For These Many Blessings I Have Received, Lord, Make Me Truly Grateful!
As I reflect on my years as a Pastor, during this Thanksgiving season, I thought it might be good to push myself to think of the blessings I have received in this ministry, and hopefully pass along some of the lessons I have learned.
I certainly have regrets, and there I things I wish I had learned earlier in my years of ministry. I wish I had learned them not simply intellectually, since I might have told you “I know that” if someone had tried to teach me those things when I was younger. I mean I wish I had really learned them so as to have put them into practice. Nevertheless, I have much for which to praise God!
I am thankful that Jesus loves me. I am thankful that God in his mercy gave me a faith and a personality that has never had a problem being angry with God. I have seen it in others but it has not been very much of a problem with me. I am thankful for the very simple faith he gave me to believe the Bible, even when I haven’t been able to figure it all out. I am thankful for that wonderful book, and how God speaks to me over and over again through it, and that there always seems to be something new to learn from it.
I am thankful to see myself as a child, and as one of the Lord’s little lambs, and be reassured that he loves me and is with me day and night, wherever I am.
I am thankful for my mother, who has always been such an encouragement to me, and if she was ever critical of me it almost always came out as if she were puzzled by my actions, like a question and never a condemnation.
I am thankful for my wife Joan, and so grateful that she has never left me, though I have certainly made her life hard at times. I am thankful that I was able to find her very early in my life and that we were married so young, though we were both too young and too immature. I am thankful that though we both had many spiritual, emotional and psychological issues we were not even aware that we had, God has kept us together. Being with her so young protected me from many of my tendencies to foolishness and I know I would have been in trouble. I have been married to a woman of great common sense, amazing loyalty and dedication, and real faith in the Lord and in the calling that He gave to us.
I am grateful for the respect of my children, for their love, their adventures, their lives, and their faith. They and their children are unfolding stories and I am blessed in them.
I am thankful for the mentors I have had, and I wish all men who go into the ministry could have had such. I had a great pastor in my youth who discipled me, rebuked me, gave me opportunity to do and practice ministry, gave me feedback on my efforts, challenged me to greater heights, and modeled so many pastoral and leadership skills. I was extremely blessed with so much personal attention, sometimes extremely irritated by it, but very much blessed.
I am thankful that when called to establish a church I was given two Elders who knew the Scriptures, knew theology, knew how a church should run and how a pastor should be supported. They loved me, respected me, made sure others respected me, and made me believe they were following me. Somehow the Lord gave them grace to put up with my shortcomings and gave them patience so they would give me time to grow. These men were the iconic image of what Elders were to be; they loved God, loved His church, loved the people, and loved me.
I am thankful that I finally learned it was important to train Elders and leaders. Having begun with men already mature and trained I did not begin a standard of training at first, and this did hurt the church when we had a few men whose personalities and minds were not set for unity and to accomplishing the vision. I am thankful that we now train leaders systematically and continuously.
I am thankful for the lessons I learned from those who were jealous or envious of my position, and who began to oppose me, sometimes in ways unknown to me. I am thankful for those other men of God who told me what was happening and helped me not be so naïve. I am thankful for the tenacity and stubbornness the Lord has given me to stay on mission and to stay true to what we have felt God called us to do. I am thankful to learn the lesson that sometimes subtraction of those in opposition is a quicker way to growth.
I am thankful for the Reformed Faith, for the deep and rich theology that it provides. I am thankful for a great heritage in Church history and I am thankful for a system of government in the Church that helps to hold people accountable. I am thankful for the great hymns of the Church. I am thankful to have been in a Presbytery that has had years of unity and has not allowed itself to be caught up in quarrels and conflicts over small matters.
I am also grateful not to be stuck in a time warp of theological or ecclesiological preference, but to have been blessed to study culture and ethnicity, and to sometimes see the difference between what is Biblical and what is cultural prejudice. I am grateful for the immensity, the diversity, the complexity, and the richness of culture and how Jesus can take hold of it and be Lord of all of it. I am grateful that the Lord is above all of it and can rebuke any of it that is not subservient to him.
I am so thankful to be in a culturally relevant congregation, that is a leader in issues of justice, and a practitioner of meaningful mercy and development. I am grateful that I never feel ashamed or inadequate in the face of other pastors or other congregations when I represent New City Fellowship. I am grateful that we are always learning from others, but almost to the point of smugness (for this I apologize) I am satisfied to be in a church that by its lights is trying to live out the Gospel as faithfully as it can.
I am grateful to the wealthy who have been generous, and have supported me through my education and ministry. I am thankful for how their kindness supported me when I would have gone hungry or been evicted or had nothing with which to do ministry. I am thankful for friends, who have loved me more than I have realized over the years. I am rich in my friends, and sometimes when I thought they had moved on they have come back to surprise me with their visits, their presence, and their love.
I am thankful for the poor, those the Lord has brought into my life, that through them I could show love to Jesus. I am grateful for their faith, and I am moved by the times I have seen them turn around and be generous to others. I am grateful for their ability to look right through rich people and see things as they are. I am thankful for those who are survivors and who do not complain.
I am grateful for black people, and black history and black culture. African Americans have taught me as much as anyone what loyalty means and accepted me beyond my deserving. Through them I think I have learned what it means to worship, what it means to celebrate; even in and maybe especially in times of great suffering and sorrow. I am thankful for music, and singing, and songs that stir up passion for God and renew my joy in the Lord Jesus Christ. I am especially grateful for constant, continuing, and renewed forgiveness poured out on me again and again by the One I fail so often, but whose love never fails. Thank you Lord!