RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–It’s Thanksgiving season once again –- time for a short list of things I’m thankful for:
— College hoops have begun, reviving comatose sports fans weary of baseball, endless football timeouts and NASCAR drivers turning left for four hours. Can glorious March Madness be far behind?
— The 2008 elections are less than a year away. That means only 3,542,199 more political debates, charges, countercharges, recorded calls on your answering machine and commercials personally approved by the candidates. Hey, it beats living in a dictatorship.
— The currently fashionable atheism that sells books and draws smug applause on talk shows seems so hollow this time of year, even to doubters of the divine. The human heart knows deep down that a personal God created the world in all its beauty and complexity, the stars and galaxies in all their vastness, the soul in all its striving for Him.
— The Lord of the universe is filled with love and mercy toward all who seek Him. “One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving,” David wrote 3,000 years ago (Psalm 62:11, 12a). It was true then, and it’s true now.
— Muslims have not rejected the Gospel; they just have not heard the Gospel. On a recent volunteer trip distributing New Testaments and “JESUS” films in Central Asia, I met Zaki, a Muslim who works at a restaurant where we ate lunch. Zaki doesn’t speak much English, but our group talked to him, smiled, compared family pictures. He happily received one of our Gospel “gift” packets as we left. Several of us returned to the restaurant a few days later. When Zaki spotted us, he ran up excitedly, embraced us and kissed us on both cheeks. We didn’t understand all he said, but the gist was that he had read in the New Testament we gave him and watched the film. “It is good! It is good!” he said. He wanted to talk more about what he had read and seen. Local believers are following up with him. Gospel means “good news.” People who open their minds and hearts to it treat it that way.
— Sharon and Wayne Williams, members of the same volunteer group, are regular church folks. They run a small construction business and stay busy all the time. But they took 10 days off, turned off their cell phones and spent a chunk of their hard-earned money to go share Jesus with Muslims. It was fun to watch Sharon –- surrounded by very conservatively dressed Muslim women –- talking, laughing and handing out New Testaments and JESUS films. Wayne and Sharon represent thousands of regular church folks who do the same thing worldwide every year. Thank God for ordinary people who do extraordinary things because they love Him.
— The great faith of a missionary couple I know who tragically lost a baby who died in the mother’s womb. They’re heartbroken, yet they continue to share Christ’s love in the midst of their sadness with their friends and neighbors in South Asia. One friend, Sudhir, told them, “Man, God can be so cruel. You can’t understand His ways sometimes.” What they want Sudhir and others to understand is that God Himself also suffered the loss of a child, His only Son. “He is not punishing us,” the grieving mother writes. “He has allowed us to go through a season of testing. We don’t always understand why. … We have to believe God will redeem this situation in some way. When I choose to believe God’s promises, joy floods my heart. … Will you pray with us that after such a difficult trial, God will do some of His biggest miracles this week?” That is overcoming faith.
— Another missionary mom who has experienced great trials over the last two years. Her family was expelled by the government from a highly restricted mission field. They moved to an even more challenging place, where violence and threats against foreign workers are common. A recent conference designed specifically for traumatized families helped her deal with some of the emotional and spiritual fallout. But she remains in “a familiar place, where I find myself waiting for more grace,” she reflects. “I think of it as Lake Placid -– not the place, but the name. It is a place that has become familiar to me over the years. I realize I need a touch from God and I start waiting, desiring that as my soul becomes still He will bring whatever issues He desires to address to the surface with a clear view. As much as I try to find and address the issues myself, it has little to do with trying, more to do with expecting. [It’s] a wonderful, empty-stomach feeling that I just cannot fill. Then, for no obvious reason, the grace fills me some morning right out of the quiet and life is divine again. It’s happened so often that even now as I wait with the hunger pain, I anticipate that maybe this morning, as the sunlight pours out over the horizon, the grace also will pour into my soul. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not sad, just hungry. It’s not a bad place, this Lake Placid, but just as the ground can be very hard and prickly sitting on the bank under the pine trees, so it is not a comfortable place. Perhaps you are there, too.”
We are all in that place, waiting for the only One who can fill the emptiness. Thank God that He always comes. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for Him, for they will be filled.
That’s my list. What’s yours?
Erich Bridges is senior writer with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. Listen to an audio version of this column at http://media1.imbresources.org/files/42/4218/4218-23012.mp3