True Thanksgiving

“When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.”  –GK Chesterton

It is good to give thanks to the Lord and sing praises to your name…to declare your lovingkindness in the morning and your faithfulness at night.  Psalm 92:1-2

I love Thanksgiving.  I love the time with my family, good food, and lots of football.  On my side, we celebrate the day before with a bonfire and weiner roast in the pasture.  My dad works hard putting all of that together; we have good old market weiners (not frankfurters, but more like thin smoked sausages) by Maeker’s in Shiner, and tons of great food to go with it.  The next day, we all head to our separate families to do the traditional Thanksgiving Dinner.  This year, it will be at our house.  My brother-in-law Don will make the turkey, Carrie’s mom will bring her impeccable dressing, and Carrie will make her sweet potato casserole.  I’m looking forward to watching my favorite quarterback, Case Keenum, lead the Minnesota Vikings against Detroit at 11:30. He’s having a great year, and it should be a terrific game.  I’m looking forward to having my daughter home for several days.  I’m excited about the start of another holiday season, and being able to listen to Christmas songs unashamed.

But in the midst of all that fun and food, I want to make sure I give God thanks.  Not just a cursory, “We thank thee, O God, for thy blessings…” but really spelling out how good He has been to me.  I suggest you do the same.  So here we go:

I am thankful that I married so well.  Carrie is wise, gentle, dignified, principled, and committed to Christ.  She is exactly what I need in a wife.  I’m thankful she has stuck with me, and inspired me to be more than I could otherwise be.  She still does.  I’m thankful that we laugh together…a lot.  I’m thankful for our Friday breakfast dates.  I’m thankful she’s such a great mom to our kids.  I’m thankful for her physical beauty; I know it’s not the most important thing, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying it.

I’m thankful for Kayleigh and Will.  They are both hilarious and fun and way smarter than I was at their age.  I am grateful that God has shaped them for great things, thankful that I got to baptize them both into His family, and that they still enjoy hanging out with their mom and me.

I’m thankful for my parents, Homer and Betty Berger.   They taught me about Jesus, put me above themselves, and showed me at all times I was loved.  I’m grateful for all four grandparents, and that I was able to grow up near them. My Grandma Berger just celebrated her 99th birthday, so that’s something to be thankful for all by itself.  I’m thankful for my brother, Billy, proud of all he’s accomplished and how great a husband and dad he is.  I’m thankful for the family I married into, as well.  Good in-laws are a treasure.

I’m thankful for great teachers in my childhood, like Mae Thigpen (who taught me K-2nd grades in our little country school, just as she had taught my mom and her dad before), Janie Rudolph, Nan Bland and Wendell Moseley.  I’m thankful for the pastors of our little country church when I was growing up, and the people who taught me Sunday School, Esther Jacobs and Bob Harbers.  I’m thankful that when Carrie and I were in seminary and were living paycheck to paycheck, Bob sent us money every month to help out.

I’m thankful for the Baptist Student Union at UH, where I met my future wife, and where for the first time I was around people my own age who were passionate about Christ.  Both of those events changed my life for the better.  I’m thankful for the education I received, at UH and in seminary.  I’m probably done going to school, but I’ll never stop learning.

I’m thankful for my own physical health.  It’s good to live in a time when modern nutrition and medicine enable us to live longer and be active beyond anything our great-grandparents could have envisioned.  I’m glad Ferdinand Berger chose to come to America in the 1870s from Austria; thanks to his decision, I get to live in the most free, most prosperous nation in the history of the world.  I’m thankful for the people who lead this nation, even the ones I often disagree with, and the people who lead our city and county, thankless jobs that we take for granted.  I’m thankful for the police who keep us safe, the men and women of our armed forces who stand on the front lines for us daily, and other first responders who take care of us in life’s most traumatic moments.   I’m thankful for the Greatest Generation, who won a war over Fascism and made this country great.

I’m grateful for life’s little pleasures: Cold watermelon and burgers on the grill in the summertime and beef stew and hot cocoa in the winter; a steak cooked medium-rare with a baked sweet potato; fresh seafood any time of the year; the pancakes at 105 Café and the ribs at McKenzies and the biscuits at Flourish and the hash brown casserole at the Toasted Yolk and the Mignon Roll at Wild Ginger and the steak sandwich at the Wiches on Wheels food truck and Sunday Gospel Bruch at Red Brick Tavern.  I’m thankful for coconut cream pie, homemade dewberry cobbler, Blue Bell Ice Cream (especially mint chocolate chip), carrot cake, cinnamon rolls and anything chocolate…plus real Czech kolaches when I happen to stop in at Prasek’s Smokehouse.  My grandparents lived through a Depression; I eat like a King.

And other (non-edible) pleasures: Shelves full of good books and a public library that offers me access to many more; history documentaries that take me to another time and place; Fall Saturdays full of college football (I’m also grateful that I grew up in a small enough school that a little guy like me could play high school football once upon a time); Super Bowl parties in late January and March Madness in the Spring; a good workout or run; a story that makes us all laugh until we can barely breathe; a hike down a secluded trail; taking my family to the movies; going home to see my parents.  And of course the 2017 World Series.

I’m thankful that, when I was 21 and newly married, God called me to a complete change of my plans.  I can’t imagine doing anything other than ministry now.  I’m thankful for the gift of preaching, for the privilege of comforting people when they are struggling, and for the joy of watching the Spirit change people’s lives.  I’m thankful for the friends I have made in the churches I pastored through the years.  I cherish those memories, even as I miss all the time we spent together.  I’m thankful for First Baptist Conroe, for the way this great church embraced me and my family right from the start, and for the great things God is doing in our church now.  I am grateful for the wonderful men and women I serve with on the church staff.  We have a good thing, and I am enjoying it thoroughly.

I’m thankful for God’s Word.  I’m so glad it’s freely available, that it challenges, corrects, comforts and inspires me every day.  I’m glad that when we preach or teach it, it changes lives.  I’m grateful that we can count on its truth; it holds me accountable at all times.  I’m thankful for the Church, and how God weaves diverse people together to make Himself known to the world.  I’m thankful for hymns and praise songs that put God’s Word into my heart and mind; for the freedom we have to worship together, and for a great facility in which to worship.

I’m thankful mostly for Jesus.  When I was lost and without hope, He lived the life I should have lived, and died the death I should have died.   That death paid the price for all my sins and brought me peace with my Heavenly Father.  Three days later, He rose from the grave, victorious!  His Holy Spirit sought me out, through the prayers and witness of my parents, and I accepted Christ as my Savior when I was only nine.  That same Spirit has brought me so far in my walk with Him: more peace, joy and purpose than I ever could have dreamed of on my own.  And the journey isn’t over; I am thankful for the ways I will grow in the future.    I am grateful that right now, I know to be absent from the body is to be present with Him, so my friends and loved ones who have passed away are in paradise today.  And Best of all, He is coming back someday.  I am thankful for the New Earth I’ll someday live on, a resurrected body I will someday walk in, and the King I will know face to face, serving and loving Him forever.

So that’s my 100.  How about you?  What does your list look like?

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