No Thanks

No Thanks

Last night one of our colleagues was sharing a story of a very prominent man and his wife.  This man and his wife were highly educated and strongly atheistic.  They had one son together. When their son decided to trust in Christ, they were sorely disappointed.  The last thing they wanted for him was to actually believe in God and live accordingly.  Our co-worker tried to build a redemptive relationship with this man; they would have meals together.  One thing that particularly irritated the man was when our friend would say “thank you.” beach blog He actually ridiculed and harassed him for always saying “thank you.” Since he found it so irritating, our colleague tried to refrain from saying that he was thankful when with him.

Thankfulness is showing that you humbly accept someone else’s help. A self-sufficient person doesn’t need anything from anyone.  They are fine by themselves, and thus feel they never need to say thank you.

The Romans 1 Crowd

Currently, I am embarking on a personal study in the Book of Romans.  This long letter is packed with so much truth; I am eagerly opening and unraveling the first chapter. Wow, it contains a very dark progression after verse 18.  It describes people who knew God, but do not want to honor Him as God nor give thanks to Him.

These people continue to become futile in their thinking and their foolish hearts are darkened.  They claim to be wise, but they become fools, moving further and further away from any sacrifice of thanksgiving to their Creator. Since they are without excuse, they will face a very harsh judgment.

The Psalm 50 Crowd

Screen Shot 2019-03-18 at 8.24.21 PMThe Psalm 50 crowd is a bit more like you and me. They know about God, but they have gotten lost in empty religious routines, eyes half-open, trying to keep the rules. Righteousness is about a relationship, not rules and routines. But they forgot.

God reminds them that He doesn’t need anything; the sacrifices are for them, not for Him. A Supreme Being really doesn’t need dead animals. “Every beast of the forest is mine. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine” (Psalm 50:10-11). So, He strongly urges them to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving in verses 14-15 and 23.

“Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgivingand perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble;
    I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me (14-15)

The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me;
    to one who orders his way rightly
    I will show the salvation of God!” (23)

beach blog 1Interesting that God chooses the word sacrifice. Sacrifices in the Old Testament were offered on an altar.  It was costly, took effort and purposeful choice.  And God knows that giving thanks (externalizing credit and fame to someone other than self) doesn’t come naturally to us humans.  It takes effort; it has to be a purposeful choice.  It is a sacrifice to offer up thanksgiving, especially when it is directed to God.

Someone who has cut God out of their lives really can’t be bothered with giving the sacrifice of thanksgiving. They are self-sufficient and don’t owe anyone anything, at least that is what they often believe.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

No Thanks to Ingratitude

beach blog 5In complete contrast to ingratitude, I welcome you to consider the mandate of Ephesians 5:20, “Give thanks in everything” and to join the Psalm 50 crowd in breaking free from routine into a living and thank-filled relationship with your Creator and Redeemer.

Don’t let your thanksgiving be an irritant to unbelievers, like we learned earlier, but do seek to give thanks always for all things, even if it is just to yourself under your breath. 🙂

The big bonus in our day is that you don’t need to keep a stone altar in your backpack. You can offer up the sacrifice of thanksgiving at the bathroom mirror, in the driver’s seat, at your work desk, at the gym, or walking in the park.

“I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the LORD.” Psalm 116:17

 

 

 

Fight Back With Thankfulness

Two Secrets

I am going to tell you two secrets.

The Paradox Principle

The first secret is that growing in Christ is built on paradoxes. Things that seem absurd or contradictory prove to be true and right. That is hard for us to really understand. We have to adjust and make new goals and expectations based on those paradoxes.blog on replacement prinicple 1

  • We died with Christ and are alive in Christ
  • The more we die daily, the more alive we are
  • The way up is the way down; and the way down is the way up
  • To save one’s life you must lose it
  • The more we give away, the more we gain
  • We are strongest when we are weak
  • Though poor, we can make others rich
  • We are most sinless when conscious of sin
  • We are wisest when we accept that we know little
  • The more we serve others, the more joy we receive ourselves
  • The more we sit quietly at His feet, the more work we get done for the Master

Notice the paradoxes in 2 Corinthians 6:9-10: as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed;  as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”

To overcome the most difficult trials of life, we begin, not by fighting them but by receiving them as from a loving Creator, being thankful in them, and eventually being thankful for them. It is counter-intuitive. A paradox.

The Replacement Principle

Screen Shot 2019-03-07 at 8.02.01 PM

The second secret is the concept of replacement. When we grow in Christ, we desire to be free from sin and the things that easily capture us. A secret to overcoming sin, is given to us in Ephesians 5:4.  Let me illustrate it first.

Don’t you love ‘Before and After‘ pictures? I do.  I love to see messy, dirty things cleaned up and useful.  It is super-inspiring.

But emptying out an overwhelming mess of useless papers, wrappers, and long-expired milk cartons is only half the job. Nature abhors a vacuum; we don’t live in empty rooms.  The empty room needs to be filled with profitable things, with a place for everything and everything in its place.

Even Jesus talked about a house swept clean of a demon, but that demon returned and finding the house empty (not occupied) brought with it seven more.  The end of the story for that person was worse than the beginning.  The room had not been properly filled and was vulnerable to spiritual squatters.

The Weapon of Thankfulness

Replacement is true in human behavior. You don’t just stop doing something; you must replace it.  When you focus on a thing, you give it power, so if you just repeat over and over, “I will not steal, I will not steal,” your mind will be filled with the topic of stealing.  Not good.  For a thief to stop being a thief, he has to start working and then focus on the superlative joy of giving to others in need (Ephesians 4:28). The stealing is replaced with compassion; taking is replaced by giving; evil is overcome with good.

Ephesians 5:1-4 says: Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.”

a blog post on replacementThis passage hits us with a surprise. Paul exhorts us to fight sexual immorality, impurity, covetousness, filthiness, foolish talk and crude jokes … with thankfulness. Paul didn’t simply shout “stop it,” like Bob Newhardt. He said to replace the sinful behavior with thanksgiving.  We fight back against sin with thanksgiving!

As we actively think thanks and express those thoughts to God and others, we take back ground that has been formerly occupied with sinful thoughts. Being thankful could be viewed as an antidote to sin. We have a weapon in being th(i)nkful.

Summing Up

So did you get the two secrets?  They actually work together.

  1. We overcome trials by receiving them from God with thankfulness.
  2. We overcome sins by replacing them with thankfulness.

How could you start down this road today?  What about having 4-5 blog on opposites 2things written out in an area easily visible like on your refrigerator and when that temptation comes, read those 4-5 things out loud and thank God that He is God, and you are not, and He is trustworthy and will measure out grace and strength to do His will.

“Practically every sin we commit is a result of a lack of thankfulness.”  Heath Lambert

 

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

So, Where Did That Song Come from?

There is hardly a person that has not heard the hit song from the 80’s, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” One feels inspired to sing along with a smirk, embracing and promoting a stress-free approach to life.  Bobby McFerrin wrote the a cappella ditty back in 1988 after he kept noticing inspirational cards and posters with the slogan. So, where did the slogan come from?

The “Don’t Worry Be Happy” slogan was coined by Meher Baba (1894-1969), an Indian mystic who believed that he was God in human form – the Avatar.  He was silent – as in, he didn’t speak at all! – from 1925 till his death 44 years later, using other means of communication instead. Seems a paradox that the man who coined the slogan would have such a self-exalted view of himself and bring such confusion to his followers about the origin of true joy.

In an interview by Bruce Fessier for USA Weekend magazine in 1988, McFerrin said, “Whenever you see a poster of Meher Baba, it usually says ‘Don’t worry, be happy,’ which is a pretty neat philosophy in four words, I think.”

Smiley

smileyemojiClosely connected to the ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’ philosophy is the famous Smiley sticker, the inspiration for many of today’s emojis.  Harvey Ball (not Forrest Gump) in 1963 is recognized as the original creator of the famous icon.

a blog on no worries 2I remember growing up in the 1970’s (that’s me with the camera) and buying smiley stickers with my allowance in the Brumunddal Bokhandle. This was a bookstore in the little Norwegian town of Brumunddal where I spent my childhood.  So exciting to spread joy and happiness all over my school books or backpack, really anywhere it would stick! 🙂

Don’t Worry, Rejoice Evermore

There is an interesting connection between “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” and Philippians 4.  Profound actually!  It is a biblical command to not be worried and to rejoice in the Lord.

“Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon. Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:4-7 (NLT)

Unlike trusting in the words of a Hindu mystic, or just bursting out in a self-help mantra, we can engage in anxiety-free joy because God is in control, and He says that if we take the trials He sends us right back to Him on our knees, He will give us help to cope with the difficulty.

Thankful Even Though …

The letter to the Philippians, written from jail, is about joy (odd, eh?) – joy in God, joy in His people, joy because of what He has done for us, and persistent joy even though times are tough. When times are tough, what does this passage say for us to do?a blog about no worries 4

  • Rejoice in the Lord, because other things and people disappoint us; because He lives; because He is the blessed controller of all my circumstances; because He is working out an amazing plan even though I can’t see it; because He will take me home; because He is coming back to fix this mess down here on earth; because He will make all things new.
  • Let people see you being considerate, because we typically close off and become self-focused when we are hurting; because people will be amazed at the power that causes a suffering person to serve others cheerfully; because when Jesus returns, we should be “caught” serving.
  • Don’t worry about anything, because it wastes energy, time, and sleep, and causes me to eat too much; because it poisons my soul and still doesn’t change the circumstances, because it indicts God for messing things up; because it pushes me to “help God” and to be the savior in the situation.
  • Pray and ask for specific supplies, because He often sends trials just so that we’ll talk to Him and get used to it; because He alone can do miracles, change hearts, heal bodies, heal relationships, bring job offers and business deals, give us great ideas, reveal the real problem, and do it at the perfect time; because at times He holds back until we call out to Him.
  • Make sure you are th(i)nkful, because He designed your trial for you at this time; because He will never leave you nor forsake you; because His Word (especially the Psalms) comes alive during hard times; because He is using the hammer, the rasp, and the furnace to make you into an original masterpiece, the first time in human history Jesus has been manifested in your form, and in your time and place.

One of the keys of not worrying and being happy is being th(i)nkful.  As we give thanks, even for our challenges, we obey the exhortation of Philippians 4:6.  He promises to fill us with His peace that is supernatural and is the guardian of our emotions and minds.

Our confidence and trust in the One who has everything in control is what enables us to be able to say “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

What about using the bridge of this popular song and the Smiley sticker to transition your conversation today to spiritual things with a nonbeliever with whom you interact?

 

 

 

 

Window to Gratitude

A post on perceptions

My View

Looking out the window of our flat here in South Africa I can see the Indian Ocean. This mighty huge body of water is third in the world after the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans.  What a glorious sight on most days, always different and always the same in its shades of azure blue, sapphire green, and stormy gray.

I could focus on that the sea-mist coats our car and windows and corrodes anything metal in our apartment, that we have to be on guard for monkeys that would raid looking for food, but I choose to think on the joys.

I can hear the distant waves incessantly crashing upon the shore, and I treasure the sight of it when we have been working hard in different places and return home.  It is like a balm to see the water again. Always different and always the same.

My Worldview

My worldview is my set of core beliefs that clarify and color everything else. If I don’t really believe there is a God, that will shape my moral reasoning, my politics, my view of authority, my ideals in economics, my value of human life and the environment, the use of technology, and so on.

But even if I am a believer in God and a follower of Jesus Christ, I can harbor some deep error inside my soul where, despite what I and others say I formally believe, I really believe 1) that God is far away, 2) that He doesn’t listen and doesn’t care, 3) that He is busy with more valuable people, and 4) that He is committed to punish me ten-fold for my past.

Choice of Perspective

a post on perspectiveA right perspective of my circumstances begins with a right perspective of how close, loving, and committed my God is to me.  If I go through a hardship and I look up and see God focused on me with two thumbs up and a smile, I may wonder what He is up to … but there is no doubt that I have His full attention and that He has some purposeful design in my circumstances.

If my perspective about God’s presence, love and commitment to me is wrong, it is like rubbing limburger cheese under my nose – the whole world smells awful!  I may say “I’m just being a realist.  I’m just saying the way things are.”  But I am only looking at reality on one level – the physical, earthly level.  My perspective is “under the circumstances,” highlighting a low-level reality that totally misses heaven’s perspective.

“Some people could be given an entire field of roses and only see the thorns in it.  Others could be given a single weeda post on perception 2 and only see the wildflower in it.  Perception is a key component to gratitude.  And gratitude is a key component to joy.”

Amy Weatherly

Self-Programming

Ever hear two people describe the same event in very different ways?  People focus on different things, and see the same things differently.  Negative people see all the faults. Positive people see the bad but search for and focus on the good and profitable things. Many notice a mixture of both. The way you perceive the view out the window of your life is more of a choice than you think.

You can program your brain what to look for.  When a “search for good” pattern has been forged, it begins to happen automatically.  Isn’t it interesting that you can meet a person who has gone through extraordinary difficulties and is still cheerful and radiating hope?  If in your occupation your job is to find errors, it may be hard for you to disengage that pattern and instead find joys. Keep trying!

What Do You See?

a blogpost on perception 1

So….did you see the duck or the rabbit first?  Our brains are amazing.  We can look at the exact same picture and see two different things!!!  The same is true for you and me when viewing our circumstances. We can live “under the circumstances” or we can use the wings of God’s promises to soar up above the storm for a few moments to get heaven’s perspective.  Sifting through the pain, trauma, and pressure, we can find so many things to think thanks about.

Th(i)nkful Challenge

So here comes a challenge to you.  What is a hard thing in your life right now?  Could you think of three things that you could think thanks about concerning that hard thing? I would love to hear from you if you are so inclined.

a blogpost on perception 3

Think thanks about the view out your window today.

Am I Sapient?

The Sapient King

In a kingdom long ago there lived the wisest king that ever was.  His fame drove people to come and visit, just to observe this man.  He wrote over 3000 proverbs Affluent parkand 1005 songs, had all the riches he desired, and nothing was out of his reach. He taught people through his example in judging difficult cases – like when two mothers were arguing over one baby.  He built houses and planted vineyards, gardens, and parks with aqueducts and pools to water the trees. He employed skilled musicians and was surrounded by beautiful women.

As his life progressed a growing realization gnawed at his soul: without God, everything is vanity under the sun. Being thankful and content with your work, your wife, and fearing your Creator were the key lessons this man learned and penned in Ecclesiastes.  Thankfulness is intricately linked with wisdom.

What is Sapient?

I am glad you asked. 🙂  I had never really heard it either until I was researching for this post.  It means intelligent, discerning, or wise.  In Hebrews 5:14, God gives a definition of discernment.

But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

A sapient person is able to distinguish good from evil.

Knowledge-Understanding-Wisdom

Wisdom is more than knowledge that is gained through experience or reasoning – there is nothing worse than a knowledgeable fool!  Dozens of passages and Scripture reveal how these three words are related:

  • Knowledge is retaining the raw material of information;
  • Understanding is the great separator; identifying what is true knowledge, targeting what is false knowledge, and most critical of all, untwisting and separating the true from the false in one lump of information;
  • Wisdom is the ability to take good information, filtered by understanding, and to act on that truth at the right time, to the right people, and with the right motivations and manner.  Fearing a righteous and loving God who is watching me every moment propels my commitment to act wisely (Proverbs 9:10).

Wisdom Includes Thankfulness

So hang on, I am going somewhere with this. 🙂  If our God puts a heavy emphasis on thankfulness, would we not also be wise in doing so?

Being th(i)nkful is a function of sapience or understanding. That my struggles are a result of God not knowing, or not caring about, or not loving me enough is false knowledge. Th(i)nkfulness celebrates true knowledge – that my struggles are ordained by God uniquely for me in order to bring about many “greater goods,” that He is with me, has given me grace, and has given me so many things around my struggle for which to be thankful.

Out of the 135 references in the BibleGood wisdom for thank, thanked, thanks, thanking, thankful, thankfulness, thanksgiving, thanksgivings, thank-worthy, 67 references came from the Old Testament and 68 from the New Testament.

 

Thankfulness is a very practical part of wisdom; it is good and right action that is based on discernment of true knowledge, and it scatters benefit in every direction:

  • Thankfulness is obedience to God
  • Thankfulness is part of worshipping God
  • Thankfulness gives credit to God and to others
  • Thankfulness honors God’s meticulous providence in every detail of our lives
  • Thankfulness uses learning to inspire still more learning
  • Thankfulness among nonbelievers is contagious and creates gospel opportunities
  • Thankfulness is the fruit of really deep and rich theology
  • Thankfulness repels our urges to sin
  • Thankfulness pushes us toward seeking forgiveness and reconciliation
  • Thankfulness builds inward peace
  • Thankfulness blurts out heaven’s perspective when ours is distorted
  • Thankfulness fosters mental health by searching for and focusing on the good
  • Thankfulness displays faith in God as we fulfill His will for us to give thanks in every circumstance
  • Thankfulness trains the brain’s neural pathways to keep looking for things to be thankful for
  • Thankfulness creates fresh air, motivating and inspiring others
  • Thankfulness is part of good leadership, highlighting the good in our challenges
  • Thankfulness sees the silver lining but also focuses on the benefit of clouds, rain, lightning and thunder

There is a pervasive emphasis throughout the scriptures on gratitude. Starting with Leviticus 7:11, where the thanksgiving sacrifice is given as one of the peace/fellowship offerings, and winding throughout the scriptures to Revelations 11:17, where twenty-four elders fall on their faces saying: “ We give thanks to You, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for You have taken your great power and begun to reign.”

The wise king from long ago learned some indispensable lessons.

Am I sapient? Am I discerning about the information, speculations, and meditations passing through my mind?  Do I act on the true knowledge I have?  Do I celebrate what is true with thankfulness?

Mount Tai Immortal Bridge

Being th(i)nkful is like a bridge that takes you from focusing on self to focusing on all that God is and has done ~ 

 

 

In Beauty and Brokenness

creativityCreativity:  relating to or involving the use of the imagination or original ideas to design or fashion something

Creative in Beauty

Our God is creative.

He created the heavens and the earth out of nothing (Genesis 1:1, Hebrews 11:3).  In fact, several amazing angels shouted out that His creative glory fills the earth (Isaiah 6:3).  His handiwork is everywhere we look and even where we can’t see with our fanciest equipment, from galaxy clusters all the way down to sub-atomic particles.

When I am faced with these dazzling works, I am so impressed with Him and filled with gratitude.  His creativity is evidence of His existence – why is there so much beauty when the entire earth could be just gray mud and lukewarm water?  He even tests mankind’s limits putting His creativity in the Mariana Trench, in the stretches of the blistering Sahara, and under the ice in Antarctica.  He is boundless power, astonishing imagination, and extraordinary humor.

But it’s not just out there.  He intricately and wonderfully knitted me together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13-15). I get to breathe today – in Him I live and move and have my being, and He is not very far from any of us (Acts 17:27-28).  I am a unique masterpiece in His marvelous creation (Ephesians 2:10, NLT).

creativity 1What a great sorrow to Him if I am just “thankful for” and not “thankful to,” as though I could chalk all of this up to chance, or luck, or random mutation, or a cosmic hiccup.  No!  I must give the credit, the applause, the fame, and my sincerest thanks to this Creator.  It is all His work.

Creative in Brokenness

But…but…but, what about when things are not beautiful?  What about when Adam disobeyed and drew down heaven’s wrath into an enduring and horrendous curse on the entire earth?  What about fallen, broken, selfish and sin-twisted humanity?  What about when well-created things don’t work well anymore?  What about earthquakes, weather extremes, hunger, ignorance, illness, disease, and death?

Our Saviour knows all about that brokenness.  One day in Galilee He had been followed by at least 5000 people who were now hungry and far from home.  He asked his disciples to see what food they could collect to meet the need.  They came up with five barleycreativity 4 loaves and two small fish.  Their solution was broken, insufficient.

But notice.  Jesus didn’t complain about the lack, nor did He just immediately “poof” things into existence.  The Lord Jesus accepted what there was and then amazingly gave thanks (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:31-44; Luke 9:12-17; John 6:1-14).

The miracle followed His offering up thanksgiving.  We might take note of the order – I will thank God for the way things are, for the small good things in my difficult situation, and leave it up to Him to change the way things are!  The prayer of thanks came before the physical provision was displayed.

Jesus did this same thing the night before He died on the cross for our sins.  And He took bread, the symbol of His body, and gave thanks (Luke 22:19).  He thanked the Father for the small bread knowing that God would soon break a much more significant “bread of life” for the sins of mankind.

You & Me & the Gospel

Our God’s finest creativity, beauty, and provision for our needs comes through this thing called “the gospel.”  It changes everything.

Zoom up 30,000 creativityfeet and get a big look at earth’s story – full of creativity and goodness, then full of sin and suffering, and then full of hope because God’s restorative creativity that’s just around the corner.

Jesus is the One God sent to enable this coming restoration – this is why He is called the Savior.

The restoration begins with me and you.  Jesus came to earth, lived a perfect life, and then died in our place, serving the judgment for our sins, so that we could be forgiven and reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).  But Jesus didn’t just “open heaven’s door” for us to earn our way to heaven; His death paid for every one of our sins from the cradle to the grave which, when we truly believe, are cancelled all at once!

Beauty Created From Brokenness

It gets better.  When we believe, we are “born again;” we become one of God’s recreation projects for the rest of our lives, changing from the inside out into someone more like Jesus.  And when we die, our bodies will be changed into truly amazing and immortal bodies. And one day, not too far from now, the earth’s brokenness will be changed to shalom (wholeness).

Miracles begin with our thankfulness for the Bread.  Our personal restoration into what God wants begins by our thanking Him.  Thank Him … for Jesus suffering in our place … for the free gift of forgiveness … for the chance to be reconciled with the Creator … for His giving us a new heart … for the health and strength to live your life as a thank you to Him.

HOMEWORK: Actively search out God’s creative beauty outside.  Next, think of God’s provision for your needs.  Express it.  The answer God gives to your cry for help may hinge on you first expressing thanks to Him for things as they are.

Creativity 5.jpeg

“God must’ve had a blast. Painting the stripes on the zebra, hanging the stars in the sky, putting the gold in the sunset. What creativity! Stretching the neck of the giraffe, putting the flutter in the mockingbird’s wings, planting the giggle in the hyena. And then, as a finale to a brilliant performance, He made a human who had the unique honor to bear the stamp, ‘In His Image.’”

Max Lucado

 

The Bane of Anxiety

My Nemesis

If I had to pick one bane that I have struggled with throughout my life – one toxic, irritating, distressing, plaguing companion –  it would be worry.  I may try to dress it up and make it not look so ugly, but in reality my worry is actually glaring sinful pride that opposes God (I Peter 5:5b-7).  I think I know what is best.  I want to be in control.

Who is in Control?

This Christmas all of our family – children, spouses and grandchildren – were able to gather together in one place after 2 1/2 years.  This is a rare thing indeed as many of us live on different continents.meadowsix10

I was given a very precious, thoughtful gift from my children.  They recorded their voices reading some of my very favorite Scriptures.  A gift that I will relish for a very long time.  Listening through it, Matthew 6:27 caught my ear as I heard my son’s voice reading.

“And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”  Matthew 6:27

It is almost like we believe that if we are anxious about something, we can change it somehow.

Anxiety“a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome”

Battle For The Throne

gratitude throneI find that I want to be in control; I want my superior understanding of what is best, my keen sense of order, and my better set of values, to be on the throne.  It is difficult to trust that God has everything completely in control and is sovereign. And even if He is in control, He at times does things in a messy and hurtful way; there seems to be no order, purpose, or reason for an illness, an accident, or a financial reversal.  Thus, I indict my God and conclude that my way is better.

But God is worthy of my trust.  He is in control whether I acknowledge it or not, and His ways are always good, perfect, and right, though they are much higher than my ways – so high that I cannot see them or evaluate whether they are up to my standards (Isaiah 55:8-9).

What benefits, however, I would enjoy if I would embrace God’s perfect and good Providence and see my ever-changing circumstances through this lens instead of relentlessly gasping and grasping at evasive control.

Th(i)nkful and Anxiety

Our Creator knows that humans have a strong propensity towards worry.  Therefore, He has given us advice and commands on how to respond.  In the Matthew 6 passage Jesus tells us to seek the things which are above and other things will come right.  Another exhortation to combat anxiety comes from Paul in Philippians 4:4-7:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Here we are given the admonition of rejoicing in the Lord, remembering that He is near, thereby setting the foundation of being able to pour out our requests to God with prayer and supplication (supplication = asking God to supply), with thanksgiving. We must practice gratitude in our heartaches and challenges.

If you give thanks with your supplication, the Lord promises that a supernatural peace will guard your emotions and mind.  That is pretty cool!

Carefree vs. Careless

You may say that to be carefree, worry-free, seems to smack of not caring or having proper concern. Carefree is different from careless.  We truly care.  We care a lot, too much, and need to direct our care to the One Who cares for us and wants to carry our cares (Matthew 11:28-30). He knows that we struggle to control and He wants us to leave the control to Him and trust in His way.

Recently I have had the privilege of caring for three little ones while their mommy is going through some physical challenges.  anxietyIn reading to them I came across this book called Places You Haven’t See Yet: A Story About Learning to Trust God, SUCH good reading about what to do when you have anxiety.  Pray!!  We pour out our hearts to the Lord with thanksgiving.

The practice of thinking thanks in every situation is an antidote to worry.  One repulses the other.  One will win!  They cannot coexist.

P.S. I included a link to the children’s book in case anyone wanted to get it. 🙂

 

 

The Power of Reflection

Being Hijacked at Gunpoint

When we moved to South Africa to help plant a church in 1995, Johannesburg was a war zone with more than a thousand car hijacking per month at gunpoint.  A year later it was my turn.  My 4-year-old daughter Elly and I were held up in a hijacking attempt in our own driveway on a Friday night.

I can still see clearly the man with the pistol, his two accomplices flanking both sides of the car wanting to steal our vehicle.  It was awful.  I scolded him from inside the locked car and laid on the horn.  No help came.  It was truly a miracle that we were not both shot dead right there in our driveway, but it was not our time to go.  We survived.

But when you experience trauma, the trauma is not over with the experience.  I had to relive it a thousand times, retell the story a thousand times.  This compulsive reflection backward on traumatic incidents opens up a huge key to the discipline of being th(i)nkful.  Your reflection can make the original incident better or worse.

Objective Experience vs. Subjective Experience

I stumbled over an interesting concept recently while reading The Happiness Advantage, by Shawn Achor.  He shares how there are many ways to help promote happiness in our lives.  Oddly enough, happiness does not come from outside stimuli but is built from within our brains depending on how we shape our brain’s neural pathways.  We can create happiness even within difficult circumstances.  His use of the term “post-traumatic growth” especially fascinated me.

fullsizeoutput_11efWhen a person goes through a traumatic experience, that person experiences the happening objectively at first.  But the later subjective re-experiencing of the happening is what I want to focus on.  We relive notable experiences many, many times.  It is in this subjective replay of the original experience where the key lies.  You can choose how you relive an experience.

My Own Battle

As I reeled through my own subjective re-experiencing of the hijacking over and over, one of the keys to healing was to rehearse my gratitude for how God helped me through every part of that test.

  • God had prepared me earlier in the day by rehearsing a lot of verses about fear with a girl I was counseling;
  • Neither Elly nor I were touched, hurt, shot, or killed;
  • They didn’t get our car (that time);
  • We had just filled up the car – they didn’t steal a car with a full tank!
  • We had a short-term missionary’s bags in the back – they didn’t steal a car with a luggage bonus!
  • God caused them fear and confusion when our gate started to close on its timer;
  • Elly and I got in the house and locked up while they were regrouping;
  • Although they jumped the wall and tried to get in, they never did;
  • We were privileged to be attacked by the evil one because God was transforming the lives of people through the gospel;
  • We had a sense that God was right there with us.

God’s grace in helping me to be th(i)nkful as I reflected on the trauma provided me with post traumatic growth.  My faith-walk with the Lord actually grew stronger.

A Challenge

a simple thank you 2As we leave 2018 and move into the brand new year of 2019 in a few days, I would like to challenge you to make a simple “thank you” part of your living.  As you process daily things, as well as work through things of the past, insert a simple “thank you.”  Let God help you to develop eyes to see not only all His blessings, for which you can be grateful, but also to see His designs in the dark places, because He is there too.  And having His hand hold you through a valley of shadows is a cause for deeper gratitude as you get to know His ways, and heart, and character, and purposes more deeply.

At first you may feel awkward and clumsy in how to express this thankfulness, but don’t give up.  Keep on forging that pattern of looking for things to think thanks for.  It will bring a cupboard full of blessings for you.  Just image this time next year reading through a notebook of daily things that you were th(i)nkful for.  I can promise you that you will be edified and encouraged. Life will serve you hard things in 2019, no doubt, but as you move those things through the sieve of giving thanks to God for everything, you will grow.

“May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, A Simple Thank Youwho has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.”  Colossians 1:11-12

Your Scroll

Whose Birthday Is It?

I remember one Christmas busying about in preparation for the holidays when I explained to our son whose birthday we were celebrating.  Christmas ScrollHe posed the question that more than a few Christian kids have asked: What were we giving to the One who had the birthday?

To have something physical to give Jesus, we cut out a paper heart, wrapped it,  and placed it under the tree.  Like the song goes…”I’ll give Him my heart.”

That’s a good beginning for kids.  But how about you?  How about actually giving Jesus a gift this Christmas that you know He will really love?  But hold on.  Let me tell you a story first.

Writing Down the Value of Others

Years ago I was told this interesting story. It influenced me to the point that we actually did this on a family get-together and our adult kids were really impacted.  Maybe you could try it this year:

You give everyone in the group a piece of paper.  Ask them to write the names of everyone in the group down the left side leaving space after each name.  Next, you ask them to write down one characteristic they appreciate about each person they have listed.

After everyone is finished, collect the papers.  Cut the papers to separate the names and their appreciation notes from other names with their notes.  Then compile all the appreciation notes of one person into a pile, and give that person their pile.

Watch the eagerness, and sometimes unbelief, on their faces.  Tears may come. Take some time to go around the room and let each person read the comments that were written about them.

It may seem like a small thing to do, but it is amazing how many will want to save those little papers.  In the story I heard, one person put his papers in his wallet and when he died years later they found them on him.  Another person put the notes in her diary, others in a safe place of memories.

Writing Down God’s Value on a Scroll

So, back to the gift idea.  How about this Christmas giving a th(i)nkful gift to the Lord in writing down “a scroll of thanks.” You can do this by yourself or do it together as a family or as a group gathered at a Christmas party.

Christmas Scroll 1Take a piece of paper. Give careful thought and write out five characteristics that you love about your God. Take your time and use words that describe the attribute well.  Next, write out five things that He has done this year for which you’re thankful.

 

So, five about who He is, and five about what He has done.  Roll up the paper, tie it with a beautiful Christmas ribbon, and put it under the tree.  This is an actually physical gift that you can give to the Lord on the day we celebrate His birthday.

Merry Christmas!

A Merry Christmas to all of you from South Africa where summer is really heating up. May the Lord give you the grace to be truly th(i)nkful this holiday season for His coming, His presence, His meticulous Providence, and His embarrassing goodness to us.  We are most blessed!

It is more blessed to give than to receive. Acts 20:35

Christmas Scroll 6

Th(i)nkful for Death Bringing Life

Sometimes Fire is Necessary

Fire necessaryDid you know sequoias rely on fire to release the seeds from their cones? Those same fires burn off ground debris exposing soil in which seedlings can take root, open forest canopies through which sunlight can reach young seedlings, reduce competition, recycle nutrients into the soil.  Sometimes, fire is necessary.

The largest tree in the world by volume is the General Sherman, a giant sequoia boasting a total of 52,508 cubic feet of wood.  At 2,100 years old, it weighs 2.7 million pounds, is 275 feet tall, and has a 102-foot circumference at the ground. It has branches that are almost 7 feet in diameter.

This incredible creative masterpiece needed fire to give it a start.  Fire is one of our greatest tools; fire is one our most destructive enemies.  Californians are all too familiar with forest fires recently and the destruction that’s left in their paths. It almost feels sacrilegious to find benefits from wildfires.

But don’t miss the point. Too often we are only thankful when things are going well or at least when there are no significant problems.  However, it is profitable to us to ponder that often “fire” is necessary for cleansing, for renewal, for the creation of great masterpieces.

Death May Bring Forth Much Fruit

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  John 12:24fire necessary 5

In a few short weeks we are celebrating the birth of Jesus the Messiah. I am continually amazed by the ironies of His coming. The Creator entering creation; piercing time and space to become pierceable. Immutable character in mutable form. Omnipotence with newborn skin wrapped in a blanket. Mary speaking to the One who spoke the universe into existence, not fully understanding that He was born to die so that we might be reborn and never die.

A week after that silent night, Simeon’s words (Luke 2:35) made it clear – a fire was coming! Truly great novels and plays all have dark chapters; for there to be a triumph, there must be internal or external foes and dark times. And there is nothing so riveting in literature as an innocent, because of love, dying in the place of one who is guilty.

Your Fires

When we experience a “fire” in our lives, we must process the grief with thanksgiving.  It is in this process that revitalization and growth can occur. As we accept God’s sovereignty in our lives and think thanks in whatever circumstance, forestfire-growth.jpegnew fresh growth will slowly happen.

There are purposes for pain and suffering that we may have no idea of.  We cry out to our God that we are so overwhelmed and at the end of our rope. Although the challenge to trust and think thanks seems so beyond what we are capable of doing, that is the way of hope, the way of birth after death.

As time unfolds we may understand more, but only when we are face to face with our Creator will we fully comprehend.

So that the tested genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  I Peter 1:7