The Eight Gates

Jerusalem’s Gates

The excitement was almost palpable. We were in Jerusalem! I had dreamed of this day for most of my life.  I was going to see with my own eyes the old city and think about how the Lord had been in this place. We hurried along the walkways and came up to the huge Jaffa gate. Let me introduce you to the one city that is truly “holy.” 🙂a blog on city-gates 9

Jerusalem is not only one of the oldest cities in the world, but has a huge prophetic part to play in the future. Walking those old streets made the scriptures come alive to me.

Old city Jerusalem has eight main gates strategically placed in its walls. History oozes from these old walls; if we could only hear them speak!a blog on gates

The Walls of My Mind

I was especially interested in learning that the eight gates remarkably illustrate the eight things that Paul tells us to think about in Philippians 4:8.

What if we pictured our minds as old Jerusalem? Only thoughts that fit the Philippians 4:8 qualifications were allowed to enter and roam the streets. Let me describe the eight gates to you and connect them with the eight things we should meditate on.  This is so cool! 🙂  First, let’s look at the verse:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.                                                          
                                                                              Philippians 4:8

1. Jaffa Gate – What is True

When coming up from Tel Aviv, the Jaffa gate is the gate you see first. It is shaped like a “L” with a door on either side. Here is an interesting true tidbit about the Jaffa Gate. In 1917, British general Edmund Allenby entered the Old City through the Jaffa Gate, but got off his horse and went in by foot to show respect, desiring to avoid comparison with Kaiser Wilhelm II’s haughty entry in 1898.a blog on city-gates 1

Let’s connect the Jaffa Gate with the True Gate.

Ask yourself. Is this thought true? Am I thinking about something that is a lie? Is my meditation in accord with what is true? Only thoughts that are true are allowed to enter my ‘Jaffa Gate.’

2. Zion Gate – What is Honorable

The first mention of Zion in the Bible is in 2 Samuel 5:7 when King David captured the fortress of Zion.a blog on city-gates 4

Here, David and I are standing in the Zion Gate, which has bullet marks clearly visible from the 1948 war. Victories in battle give a soldier honors, so connecting Zion Gate with honor is perfect.

The Evil One loves to fill our thoughts with shameful things that we think no one else will know about.  Is this thought honorable? Opposites of honorable are shameful and ignoble.

Do my thoughts fit through the Honorable Gate?

3. Dung Gate – What is Just

The Dung Gate is the place where the refuse of the old city was carried out to the Hinnom valley (Gehenna) where the fires never died. It is located close to the Temple Mount.

a blog on gates 3The Dung Gate and the Just Gate could easily be connected by the fact that our just reward for our sin is death. All our righteousness is as dung, filthiness (Is. 64:6). We justly deserve punishment, but God instead has given us His righteousness.

Do my thoughts reflect things that are just? Just is defined as based on or behaving according to what is morally right and fair. That qualification would be a good checkpoint for my thoughts.

4. Golden Gate – What is Pure

a blog on city-gates 5What a neat picture for the Golden Gate to be linked to the Pure Gate. That gate will be opened when the Pure and Holy One comes. The Messiah has already entered the predecessor of this gate once before riding on a donkey a few days before He died to pay for my sin. Soon He will return to claim His rightful kingdom.

In myself, I cannot attain pure thoughts because of the sinful person that I am, but as I allow my Savior to control my thoughts and renew my mind to be like His, pure thoughts will dominate.

Four Gates Down, Four To Go!

a blog on gates

5. Lion’s Gate – What is Lovely

The Lion’s Gate and the Lovely Gate both start with ‘L.’ If one looks carefully on the wall on both sides of the top of the gate, you can see lions. This is close to the location where Stephen was martyred.

a blog on Gates 4

Sometimes lovely thoughts are difficult thoughts. Stephen died for Christ because of his great love for Him. He gave the greatest gift he could for His Savior ~ his life. And when he died, Stephen saw Jesus, who had been seated at the right hand of the Father, stand.

Are my thoughts lovely?

6. Herod’s Gate – What is Commendable

Herod was the greatest known builder in the Middle East in ancient times. He built Masada as a palace, the city of Caesarea on the coast, the Herodium palace, and he rebuilt the second temple and the mount on which it sat.  The stones at the wailing wall today were laid by Herod. Though he was a wicked man, his building achievements were commendable. a blog on gates 5

This Commendable Gate would check whether my thoughts were constructive, innovative, and worthy of approval. Would it bother me if someone could see my thoughts projected up on a screen? Would they be approved by an inspecting king?

7. Damascus Gate – What is Excellent

This gate was the busiest gate around Jerusalem and brought you to the main road heading to all points north in Israel and to Syria. This would have been the gate a rabbi named Saul left on his way to arrest Christians in Damascus. This road was likely the one next to which Jesus was crucified.

a blog on city-gates 7There is nothing in Scripture about a hill called Golgotha or a mount called Calvary. “The place of the skull” was next to a road; it still is today.  Romans crucified criminals beside the main road to teach a lesson to passersby of what happens when you disobey Roman Law.

Jesus was the Excellent One. The Perfect One. Because He died as a perfect human, the curse from Adam could be reversed. We can partake in the results of His death on the cross. He saves us.

Are my thoughts clear, creative, and consistent with the gospel? Do I live and think in light of that Good News? Are my thoughts excellent?

8. New Gate – What is Praiseworthya blog on gates 7

This is the most recent of the gates. It was opened in 1889 to allow easier access for worshippers in the Christian quarter.

The New Gate is connected to the Praiseworthy Gate. We must find new ways to continually praise the Lord because He is the Praiseworthy One.  If, in our thinking, we are looking for things to praise the Worthy One, other thoughts that do not line up those sentiments will feel out of place.

Final Check

So there you are. These are the 8 gates that need to guard our minds.a blog on gates

  1. True Gate ~ Jaffa
  2. Honorable Gate ~ Zion
  3. Just Gate ~ Dung
  4. Pure Gate ~ Golden
  5. Lovely Gate ~ Lion’s
  6. Commendable Gate ~ Herod’s
  7. Excellent Gate ~ Damascus
  8. Praiseworthy Gate ~ New  

 

 

If your thoughts fit into these eight gates, you will have no trouble thinking thanks.

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a blog on gate 11

 

 

Spot It?

African Game Drive

One of my favorite things to do is going on a game drive through the African bush.a blogpost on spotter 3

It really helps if you have someone with you who is a good spotter. :). It can be tricky to catch a glimpse of rare animals that are camouflaged well in the bush. A special treat would be to spot the Big Five in one day! That is almost impossible, but it can happen.

David’s Devotionals

During the lockdown here in SA, our elders at Grace-Toti have given daily devotionals that have been so encouraging. David records his challenges right in our dining area.

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He shared one that was very apropos for th(i)nkful:

“Today, I want us to ponder … thanking God for what is happening.  The verse I want us to look at is 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

You want to know God’s will for you?  Give thanks in all circumstances.

The word thanks, thankful, thanksgiving is mentioned thousands of times in Scripture, so it’s one of the largest themes in the Bible.

Now listen closely: Thankfulness is a both a natural response … and an unnatural discipline.giving a present

Thankfulness is a natural response to something good coming from outside yourself – someone gives you a thoughtful gift, does something to help you, makes your life easier or brighter, speaks an encouraging word to you.  You feel an inner sense of joy …and for a selfish person it stops right there – joy at the wonderful thing someone did or said. Maybe they go on and talk about themselves some more!

Whole cultures can be selfish like this – Romans 1:21 is one of the saddest verses in all the Bible:

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile – empty, aimless – in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

In a selfish culture, if things move from average to negative, they demand that God fix that. But if things move from average to positive … they won’t call for days of celebration thanking God for His blessings, but they will talk about the great advances their scientists or industries have made.

Now, many hundreds of years ago in the Anglo-Germanic languages, the words think and thank came from the same root. So … a THANKFUL person will feel that inner sense of joy … and then think … and attach that joy to that other person. They will assign credit to that person … and give value to what they’ve done. “They were so kind; that was so thoughtful of them.”

But this is all inside the head and heart.  Now, what do you do with that?

The first mistake I mentioned was selfishly feeling good … but not feeling thankful.

Our second mistake is feeling thankful … but not expressing our thankfulness to that other person or group of people.

I mentioned at the beginning that thankfulness is a both a natural response … and an unnatural discipline. For those who struggle to speak up, to express their thanks, perhaps due to being shy or an introvert, this is where the unnatural discipline kicks in. The command is not just feel thankful, but GIVE thanks.

Colossians 3 mentions thankfulness three times in three verses – verses 15-17. Take a look at it if you wish:

“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ [the message about who Jesus is and what He’s done] dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

There are three phrases: be thankful, thankfulness in your hearts, and giving thanks. Let’s look at them:

Firstly, God says “be thankful.” The Greek verb is in the prolonged sense, so be continually becoming thankful.  Being thankful is a routine practice of spotting and highlighting the good that God or others have done.

Spotting a leopardMost of us love going on game drives. Sometimes you can go with rangers in the open trucks, and way up front on the front grill, there is a seat for the spotter. Some spotters are amazing in the way they can pick out little details that the average person would miss. The swishing tail in the tall grass, the way those birds are behaving.

When God says very simply “Be thankful.” He is saying “my child, you are the spotter.anxious 1

I am at work all around your world. The earth is filled with my glory. You benefit from the common grace that I shower upon mankind every moment of every day. As the Most High, I rule in the kingdoms of humanity; I establish the times and seasons of nations, but I am also orchestrating every detail of your life; I am sending my Son back soon and am making things ready. YOU ARE THE SPOTTER!

Look for my fingerprints, and point others to me!  Others may see nothing but dead grass, nothing but panic and pandemic, shriveling economies and withering hopes. Even some of my own children feel this way. But you must be thankful. You must search and spot and speak up about the things for which people can be thankful.”

Verse 16 – with thankfulness in your hearts – “Thankfulness” is a heart attitude that creates an impulse to express gratitude to God and to others. The attitude of gratitude. Your heart is your wanter. Whatever you really want, that’s what’s in your heart.

So being thankful is the routine practice of spotting things to be thankful for. But thankfulness in the heart is the energy to express it.

Verse 17 – Whatever you say or do, do it as the representative of Christ, “giving thanks” to the Father – here is the command again that we saw in 1 Thessalonians 5. Give thanks; that is, speak out your list of things to be thankful for. You must move your mouth … or maybe your pen or keyboard. Don’t hold it inside – don’t just feel thankful.

You can thank God for His amazing character – His love, patience, mercy and compassion, His sovereign control of all of my circumstances for my good and His glory. You can thank God for giving us His Word – our record of who God is, what He has done, His plan for the ages.  You can thank God for the beauty, power and complexity of the creation.a bird blog 2

You can thank Him for your needs being met, for friends and family, for body parts that still work, and a heart that beats automatically while you sleep. These things are just common for us … but take your eyesight away. What if you only had tomorrow what you thanked God for today?

In this pandemic, you can thank Him that the virus isn’t even more deadly; thank Him for hard working healthcare professionals, for governments trying to do the right thing, for crime that has dropped way off due to the lockdown and no alcohol sales. Many of our hospitals are reporting that there is nothing to do – with isolation and no alcohol, the ER is quiet.

All of these are thanking him IN the trial – the trial dominates the scene, but you are the spotter and you draw attention to things around the trial to be thankful for. But the deep blue hero zone is where you thank God FOR the trial.

Father, thank you for the coronavirus, because … we’ve had time together as family, more time in your Word and in prayer, that we are being refined and made godlier as we learn to trust and not fret; that you are speaking to people and to nations; that our church has reached thousands with God’s Truth over the internet during lockdown. We can thank Him FOR the trial.

Thankfulness is both a natural response … and an unnatural discipline. In times of suffering and anxiety, thankfulness is a discipline. The dread of the valley of dark shadows grabs our attention; the wind and waves of Peter’s walk on the sea challenge our ability to focus.

We need to press through and be “thinkful”, a word my Karin coined. Being th(i)nkful is choosing to download God’s strength to think thanks about every circumstance in my life and to express that thanks orally or in written form.

Virtually every sin that we commit is a result of a lack of thankfulness. So let’s obey this command from God’s Word this morning. Let’s become the spotters, highlighting the myriad things for which we can express our thankfulness.”

Be th(i)nkful! Be the spotter!

a blogpost about spotter

Powerless

Balcony Chat

David and I enjoy eating on our balcony a blogpost about thanks 1when the weather affords it – which is often here in Southern Africa. Today we were discussing the oncoming challenges of Covid-19, and feeling a bit overwhelmed I asked him, “What is a good verse for such a time as this?”

After pondering for a moment, David responded with “our eyes are on you” from 2 Chronicles 20:12.  The setting for that verse is King Jehoshaphat and the great horde of three aligned armies coming toward them. The nation of Israel looked small and meager in comparison to all the enemies marching toward them. They felt overwhelmed and frightened, so the king called out to the Lord in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem and he said:

“O our God, will you not execute judgment on them?  For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us.  We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” 

An interesting note is that as the people prepared to go out to face their enemy, King Jehoshaphat appointed specific people to go out front in special attire and … amazingly … sing thanksgiving to the Lord.  How many armies have you ever heard of that had singers as the front line?  This is what they sang (verse 21): “Give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever.”

First Thank

What a great model for us to do when we feel overwhelmed by all that is happening around us.  The “great horde coming against us” is the coronavirus; one doctor said “I view every person coming toward me on the street as a bullet – it might graze me, hurt me badly, or kill me.”

We are fearful of the unknown, and fearful of the responses government and business are making to the unknown.  We don’t know what to do, but we will fix our eyes on the Lord.  We will choose to think thanks right in the middle of the battle.  Just like the Israelites had no idea how God was going to work this all out; they still sent singers to sing thanks to the Lord.a blogpost on first thank 2

Like most people, I struggle so much with ambiguity. It is a hard thing for us as humans.  Right now there is LOTS of ambiguity.  But this is exactly what God has designed for us presently.  So, with God’s help, I want to grab that ambiguity and think thanks right in the middle of it and power through the difficulty on the supernatural wings of gratitude and grace.

I relate easily with Paul in 2 Corinthians 12 where he pleads for the Lord to remove his thorn in the flesh.  The Lord graciously answers no, but adds that His grace is sufficient for him, for His power was able to make him just perfect in weakness.

This, too, will pass. Even if we should lose our earthly lives, we will be with the Lord forever.

So What Happened?

You would not believe it.  2 Chronicles 20:22 says: “And when they began to sing and praise, the Lord set an ambush…”  The enemies around the Israelites started to turn on each other, the whole alliance melting down such that they obliterated each other.  By the time the Israelites arrived at the watchtower of the wilderness to look toward the horde in verse 24, the enemy was all dead, just bodies everywhere.

When they began to sing and praise!! The Lord is pleased when we are thinkful. When we choose to think praise and express it even when our circumstances are dreadful around us, we power through in faith offering up a sacrifice of praise and trust in the Almighty One.

So what about me? How can my thinkfulness change the great horde of Covid-19 that is approaching?  How can my choosing to think thanks help when people around me are dying, loosing their jobs, and facing hopeless circumstances?

Well, here are a few things for which to be thankful:

  • God is getting our attention; even this great Western World is a vapor and is going to pass away soon;
  • God is giving families the opportunity to spend quality and quantity time together, for parents to invest in their first disciples;
  • God is bringing our impurities to the surface through the heat of change and pressure so that we can repent and yield that area to God;
  • God is giving us more opportunity to read and pray and write;
  • God is shifting our values away from vain entertainment industries and toward the meaningful others-serving medical and teaching professions;
  • God is teaching us to trust His character and promises even though we cannot understand His ways in this storm;
  • God has given mankind the smarts to invent electricity, the internet and tech devices through which we can communicate and gain valuable information (there was no such help in past great pandemics);
  • God is opening up opportunities for me, and little churches now going online, to witness about the hope and forgiveness found in Jesus;
  • God could be freeing me from the heart idols of comfort, control and people-pleasing that have dominated my life;
  • God is giving a precious opportunity to meet on Zoom with a supporting church

 

Allentown Bible Church

Powerless Is Good

That statement seems so contradictory.  How can it be true that when I am powerless, I can be strong?  It is because we have a supernatural God.  He delights in showing Himself mighty on our behalf, but doesn’t delight in doing what we tell Him to do. No, His ways are higher and better (Isaiah 55:8-9). He delights when we let go, open our hands, worship Him and embrace our Father’s will in our lives no matter what He chooses.

a blogpost about first thank 1

“For the sake of Christ, then I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 

2 Corinthians 12:10

Thinkful Going Viral

Screen Shot 2020-04-06 at 2.21.10 PMGoing Viral

Sometimes it’s a video of a reporter suddenly seeing an approaching wild animal, or neighbors welcoming home a teenage cancer patient, or an incident of heroism or racism, we are used to referring to a rapidly spreading story as “going viral.”

YouTubers hope that their music, sports, cooking, drone or humous video will go viral and get a million hits. Famous people thrive on seeing their tweets go viral – even negative attention is better than no attention at all, right?

What Does Viral Mean?

A couple definitions of viral are:

  • of the nature of, caused by, or relating to a virus or viruses:“a severe viral infection”
  • contagious; descriptive of an image, video, or piece of information that is circulated rapidly and widely from one Internet user to another – “it went viral

Lately, we have heard the word “virus” a lot – almost too much to bear. The coronavirus has deeply impacted our lives; stopped our mobility, filled our hearts with heavy news, sent some of our loved ones to suffer or die alone, upended our economy, and snuffed out our jobs. This virus has demonstrated how the phrase “gone viral” got its name. From the first cases in Wuhan at the end of 2019 … to epidemic … to pandemic … to civilization-altering.

Imagine Good Viral

aaa viral post 4Can you imagine with me for a second how something good could go viral?  Let’s take the concept of a person being thinkful.  Here you have one person that chooses to download grace from the Lord to think thanks about every circumstance that comes into their life.  They actively express that thanks. They either write it down, express it orally, or post it in written or video form on social media.

Let’s say they “infect” just two people to follow their example. Then those two people express how they are choosing to think thanks amid adverse circumstances and infect two more people. In a short time, the exponential power of “overcoming thinkfulness” can move a simple choice to pandemic status.

Example of Going Viral

Debbie began to float the idea of sewing face-masks to help our community. It started with her talking to a local doctor and then she garnered other ladies to help.

aaa viral post 6As of this evening, we have been able to provide over 400 face-masks for our Amazimtoti healthcare providers, police officers, and gas station attendants.

We now have Debbie, Chrisna, Sarah, Jacky, Daphne, and myself sewing like crazy to try to be a testimony for Jesus in a needy time. Common masks are almost impossible to get, so providing the masks with an insert about our church and scripture is greatly appreciated.  I love seeing it grow exponentially.

Thinkful Viral

The beauty and danger of something going viral is that it takes so little. Just one cough droplet or the accidental touch of an infected area can have huge ramifications. So also is the power of one person choosing to think thanks. aaa viral post 2It takes one person inspiring another and encouraging that person to do likewise. These days it likely happens on the computer from all our isolated homes.

Won’t you start? Just be the one to set the example. Many of you are already doing it; I see it on social media. You have developed brain neural pathways of looking for things to think thanks about throughout your days. You give your thanks to God as a present. He is deserving of this gift, this sacrifice of praise, even when we don’t understand His ways. Especially then.

Th(i)nkful (adj) describing people who choose to download grace/strength from the Lord to think thanks about every circumstance in their life and to express that thanks orally or in written form.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Infection of Anxiety

Most Popular Bible Verse

Kelly Smith of our team here did some research and learned the Bible verse most Googled in 2019. Can you guess what it was?

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.

Philippians 4:6

anxious?No surprise. It will probably be the most popular verse for 2020 as well! Humans are typically anxious people. Do any of these words describe you?

Uneasiness, concern, care, worry, doubt, tension, alarm, distress, suspicion, angst, apprehension, misgiving, suspense, nervousness, disquiet, trepidation, foreboding, restlessness, perturbation, watchfulness, fretfulness, disquietude?

We struggle greatly in this area. If we are unable to control specific areas of our life, there is a compelling invitation to partake in anxious thoughts.

No wonder God compares us to sheep. Sheep believe that if there is a change, it will almost certainly be bad. Only sameness with a trusted shepherd allows them to lie down in green pastures. David said (Psalm 23) that our Shepherd is so powerful and trustworthy that we can pass through valleys of the shadow of death and fear no evil because He is with us!

Uncertain Worse Than Bad

The way we view uncertainty while continuing to move forward is called “ambiguity tolerance.”  Good leaders have to have high ambiguity tolerance as they move people forward to a “preferable future” that is far from certain. That’s why they are leaders. Regular people struggle with changes to the norm. We don’t do well with deviations from our daily routine, workplace, and normal companions. And now, enter Covid-19.

The new coronavirus at present has caused over 15 000 documented deaths worldwide (in a few days this number will sound wonderfully low). Just a few months ago no one really spoke about a coronavirus, now everyone talks about it. Countries and economies are shutting down to isolate and try to prevent spreading. Schools, church meetings, non-essential jobs, concerts, sports, and any large gatherings have been cancelled or greatly restricted.

In a matter of a few weeks our world has changed. There is so much fear, and even worse than what we see that is bad is the uncertainty about the future; our health, our finances, our food, our security.

But our God has not changed.

Relief – Your Importance

How can we find relief? It feels like we are caught up in a never ending web. We think we are starting to get on top of things, and then we hear of something new that sends us flying into the anxiety abyss. 😦

I have good news.

There is a way out.

The Lord will not test us above what we are able (1 Corinthians 10:13). He promises to guide us through the temptations to be anxious, if we will let Him.

He says, “Look at the birds.” You can consider sparrows that are everywhere on earth. You can pick out your favorite bird nearby – one of ours is the European Bee-eater [pics] – and ponder the importance of that little one to God.

 

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?

Matthew 6:24-25

He knows everything that you are anxious about. He loves you. These difficulties and challenges that plague you are not without reason. You are being shaped by them.

Relief – Your Connection

In this heat of the trial of the unknown, there is a prescription from our Father.

If you have reconciled with God, then you can call out to Him with your angst and worries, and accompany your requests with thanksgiving, He will pour over you supernatural peace. Peace that will fill your entire being and guard your emotions and your mental thoughts. That is a promise that He makes to us in Philippians 4:7 and He never ever goes back on His promises.

If there is unfinished business between you and your Creator, you must deal with it. Get things sorted out. This is not the time to delay!

He will direct your path, whether staying home here or going home to the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:6-9). In either case, it’s going to be ok. His ‘ok’ should be your ‘ok.’

Relief – Being Th(i)nkful

How about getting a piece of paper right now and writing down all your concerns before the Lord. Then connect each item with thanksgiving. Yeah I know, at first it feels impossible, but power through. Discover just a few things that you can give thanks for in the middle of the test.

My Thinkful List for Covid-19:

  1. The virus has a ‘wake-up’ element for humanity
  2. The virus is humbling the arrogance of nations and of scientism
  3. Around the globe, we are unified in a strange sense
  4. People become aware of how we affect each other
  5. Families are spending quantity and quality time together
  6. Prayer is becoming more popular
  7. People are talking about God and the afterlife
  8. As we prepare ourselves for harder times, we take stock and shift priorities
  9. The brokenness of the earth makes us eager for heaven
  10. Turns up the volume on the need to share the Good News of Christ

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How about letting these words describe you:

Security, confidence, relief, assurance, serenity, contentment, calmness, tranquil, halcyon, untroubled, unruffled, mild, temperate, restful, composed, sedate, peaceful, amicable, irenic, collected, gentle, sober-minded, steady, genial, equable. 

“Thanking in the midst of a trial is the intentional exercise of a spiritual muscle, a choice to believe Him instead of our circumstances or feelings.”

Debbie Willoughby

Grow Down to Grow Up

Amazing Trees

Have you heard of the upside down tree?  The huge baobab tree here in Southern Africa has the unique feature of looking like it is topsy turvy with its roots sticking up in the air.aaa tree blog2

Although all trees may not have the radical look of the baobab, each species has its fascinating uniqueness.  And just think of all the products that we get from trees: fruit, paper, furniture, food, healing ointments and syrups, just to mention a few.

There are 60,065 tree species in world. Every tree, like every human, is unique.

Trees in the Bible

The Bible makes significant mention of trees – literally and figuratively.  The Garden of Eden had two very famous trees; the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life which God has kept cultivated in heaven’s greenhouses until the New Jerusalem is established (Rev. 22:2).20190312_193311

But the Scripture also pictures a person as a tree. What kind of tree would you be?  A person who loves God’s Word is a healthy tree (Ps. 1). King Nebuchadnezzar was a tree that got cut down (Dan. 4). Jesus likened people to trees, and said you can tell what kind of tree they are by their fruit (Mt. 7:15-19).

Screen Shot 2020-03-04 at 3.11.54 PMGrow Down to Grow Up

If you know anything about trees, you know that what is happening under the surface is even more important than what you see; the health of what you see is determined by what is happening down in the roots.

The same is true in the Christian life; what is happening in the privacy of our hearts and minds determines what is happening outwardly.

In the soil of my mind is Truth about God’s character, God’s work (in the world, in sending Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world, even His work in my life), and God’s promises.Screen Shot 2020-03-04 at 3.13.06 PM.png

But in the soil of my mind there are also Lies of the world, the flesh and the devil driving fears, setting goals, promoting values, pushing attitudes about myself, about other ethnicities or classes, and about God.

My HEART is my core wanter that chooses where my roots are going to grow to draw up nutrients … either drawing on Truth or drawing on Lies. The Truth that my heart draws up feeds my THINKING, what I meditate on in my free time.

My THINKING in turn shapes my DESIRES; here is where the tree branches out – I have desires, drives, for what kind of wife I want to be, what kind of mom, my desires as a businessperson, desires for what I want to achieve as an athlete, desires for the depth of my walk with the Lord, desires of how I want my kids to turn out, desires for our holidays, cars, and homes.

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Those desires are fleshed out in my BEHAVIORS, moment by moment, enjoying things that line up with my desires, getting frustrated with things that are against them. Desires determine how I spend or save my money, how I perform at work, how often I share Christ or live like Jesus (hey, I am bearing some fruit!), how I interact with my teens, how I serve at church, when I get up and what I do first thing in the morning. Desires drive behavior.

EMOTIONS are the upper leaves, the tip of the iceberg. Toxic emotions flow all the way up from toxins in the heart, through bad thinking that skews my desires and can blend together with some other bad behaviors.

Then Comes The Test

Notice that when you look at both sides of the tree, they seem similar. A Christian can be drawing on lies that feed everything they do, and their leaves still seem pretty green. But then the winds, the waves, and the storms come.  Then comes the HEAT.

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It seems that only in the heat can we slowly see what a believer’s roots have been feeding on.  Jeremiah 17:5-10 speaks of two trees.

The first tree is in vv. 5-6: “Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord [feeding on the lies of the world]. He is like a shrub in the desert and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.

The green is gone; the leaves just fall away because they were fed by lies, not truth.

The second tree is in vv. 8-9: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

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Going For Thriving and Fruitful!

So, what is God’s desire for your life, a perfect life in His way of thinking?

  1. I must be born again by tapping into the Living Water (faith in Jesus Christ) – this requires a personal response to the gospel.
  2. I must be rooted, anchored and sustained by the Truth about God’s character, God’s work, and God’s promises – this requires a commitment to read His Word personally, to get a study Bible to read the notes, to listen purposefully and take notes during Bible studies and messages, maybe to listen to podcasts – whatever it takes to know our God well.
  3. My heart must constantly draw up Water and Truth to renew my mind, control my desires, and produce fruit – as the heat comes, it is critical for me to let go of lies I have been believing, keep my roots in the water and the Word of God, and in some cases, to even produce my best fruit in severe conditions.

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While these principles affect any behavior in your life, they certainly affect your ability to be th(i)nkful.  That’s why the th(i)nkful logo (bottom) is a tree.  Even with the heat bearing down on me, I know my God’s character, works, and promises and can think thanks in whatever circumstance He places me.

What Type of Tree Are You?

You may not be like the African baobab tree with your ‘crown’ looking like your ‘roots,’ but what would your ‘roots’ look like? Could your existing ‘roots’ support a mature tree that will stand strong in the heat and drought?

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Anxiety Knocking

Anxiety Knocking

The call came right after Katie got back from her lunch break.  The health technician informed her that there were some abnormalities that were discovered in her last scan and that the doctor would like her to come in at her earliest convenience.

She could feel the anxious thoughts knocking. blog on knocking 1They were crowding in and piling on, one over the other. It felt impossible to stop them. It was like a rushing flood of water rising by the second.

  • “Do I have cancer?
  • How much time do I have?
  • What will my family say?
  • Is it going to hurt a lot?”

Activity in My Thinking

Although it happens so quickly, we have a choice in how we respond to a surge of anxious thoughts. Here’s a chart shared by my friend, Kimberly Yoder.

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Thinking is the key!

You are either thinking lies or thinking truth. The tricky part is that thoughts fire quickly and are difficult to separate.

Your thinking begins to affect your desires. You find yourself desiring comfort, control, or to please people. It may not make sense to you at all, but it’s happening nonetheless.

Not only does your thinking affect your desires, but the desires quickly in turn begin to affect your behavior. It’s bound to happen. You express on the outside what is happening on the inside.

Finally the emotions follow in tow. They are more easily noticed. 🙂

In this scenario the phone call presented an invitation to allow anxious thoughts to permeate. Anyone would have concern, no doubt, receiving information of that manner, but there is another way we can choose to process the vacuum of ambiguity that follows such a call. We can choose to think truth (Philippians 4:8).

The Problem of Pondering and Projecting

You may say that the truth is that there are abnormalities and something is amiss in Katie’s body. Yes, that is true. Anxious thoughts usually start with basic information that is true, but they don’t stay there. The anxiety moves on into pondering all of the ‘what if’s.’  Those things are not necessarily true. And anxiety doesn’t stop there. It projects possible outcomes and fears that could be realized, and the tears begin to flow. Now we are dealing with outright falsehoods that have not taken place.

It is a delicate job to discover and unpack “lies” that influence our thinking.blog about knocking 5

The Deceiver is exceptional at suggesting lies that seep into our thinking. Remember how he did it in the Garden of Eden?

  • Has God really said?
  • God doesn’t really want your best.
  • God can’t be trusted.

He loves to sow doubt about the character of God.

How do you unpack hidden lies and deceit that have burrowed deeply into your thinking?  God, through His Word and His Spirit, can help decipher what you are thinking.

 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12

When we discover ‘lies’ we are thinking about, we need to remove them and replace them with truth from God’s Word.

Alert Response

Katie pursues truth in this thought-test. Yes, she might have a medical problem. Yes, God is completely aware of all that is happening in her body. Yes, God loves her so much and is trustworthy. Yes, God has things He intends to do in her and through her, no matter the outcome.

She grabs her Bible and begins to search for and actively meditate on God’s truth and to give thanks for the promises she has in Christ.blog about knocking 4

  • God says in Psalm 139 that He has all our days numbered when as yet there was none of them.
  • God has promised to never leave me nor forsake me.  Hebrews 13:5-6.
  • God will use whatever He allows in my life to make me more like Jesus, His Son. Romans 8:28-29.
  • I Corinthians 10:13 gives me the assurance that He has checked the test and will make sure that I can somehow make it.
  • We can give thanks for the things above, trust Him, and begin to look for His fingerprints present. Ephesians 5:20; Colossians 3:15-17; I Thessalonians 5:18.

The positives help balance the possible negatives; the loving and meticulous providence of God counters the ambiguity. The whole concept of th(i)nkful centers on what you are thinking. There is no way you can be thankful unless you are first thinking the thanks. Somehow it evades us that what goes on in our thoughts affects who we are and what we do – keep a guard on your heart because everything in life flows from it (Proverbs 4:23).

Are you kicking out lies?

Kick out the unwelcome lying thoughts and instead welcome in the thoughts that are true.blog on knocking 6

Thinking Thanks for HOPE

Coronavirus

It’s growing. The number of people dead is increasing daily. a blog on hope 1There are thousands of people infected in multiple countries around the earth.

Everyone seems to be aware of this new epidemic. In a strange, eerie way it connects all of us as humans. We can be as careful as possible, but we are still susceptible.

Wuhan residents, quarantined in the place of the outbreak, are hunkering down in their flats, even shouting out from their windows “Jiayou,” literally meaning add oil, but figuratively encouraging others not to give up.  To hope.

In Need of Hope

You may not get the coronavirus, but you are still in desperate need of hope. Maybe there is a different health challenge, financial reversal, broken relationship, or emotional challenge that plagues you. All of us need HOPE! We need to see that something better is coming, that there is a light at the end of this oppressive darkness. For some who have had a lifetime of shattered and tattered years, this life can’t be all there is. Wrongs need to be made right. Brokenness needs to be mended. Justice must be meted out.a blog on hope 5

We learn in counseling training that the first two goals when working with someone are for them to feel that 1) you really listened and 2) you gave them hope. That sets the stage for them to come back and talk more.

The Object of Hope

Biblical hope is defined as a confident expectation based on someone’s promise. It is not a whimsical “I hope so” wishing that a mystical fate called luck somehow blesses you by chance.

  • We don’t hope in hope, thinking that our good imaginations of the future will create some positive energy that will make it all come true (Matt. 6:27).  That’s above our pay-grade.
  • We have to be careful even about hoping in each other. We fail each other; we come up short; we forget; we have good intentions; we lie. I can have only a guarded hope that someone will keep his or her word (Jer. 17:5).
  • We dare not hope in uncertain riches, and yet many people work and live with their hope anchored in the shifting sands of riches (1 Tim. 6:17; Ps. 62:10; Prov. 23:4-5; Jer. 9:23).

a blog on hope 6Biblical hope is an anchor that grabs onto a rock and won’t let go (Heb. 6:19). Our Rock is the unchanging character of a Person and the promises He makes to people like me.  A hopeful person can hang their full weight on Who they have anchored into just as a person who rappels rests their hope in the rock above them. Jehovah is a God who has a steadfast love for us and He keeps His Word. The Psalmist mentions this dozens of times:

“Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love.” Psalm 33:18

His track record of being worthy of our hope and trust is laid out in His Word.

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that … through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Romans 15:4

The Source of Hope

a blog on hope 3Smart hope is in God. It also comes from God; only He is able to produce sustaining hope in our darkest moments when all other lights have gone out.  He is not just the Creator; He is my Creator (Ps. 139:13-16). He knows my days, has planned my ways (Prov. 16:9), and matched my rugged cross with grace.

The Alpha and the Omega is infinite Mind; He has never learned anything; the minutiae of my entire life is before His eyes at all times. His knowledge of my situation and His steadfast love give me hope; imagine if He slept or got confused or distracted periodically! But no. This God of hope is the sovereign micromanager of my trials (1 Cor. 10:13) and, through His Spirit, He can give me joy and peace in the middle of trouble.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. Romans 15:13

Th(i)nkful for Hope

I have seen it.  A child who feels hopeless, suddenly is filled with hope. A situation that looks impossible, all of sudden opens up. a blog on hope 4When sin has pushed us down, and yelled in our ears that we will never be free, the Savior hears our desperate call and picks us up cleansing away unrighteousness.

  1. I am thankful that that hope does not depend on me.
  2. I am thankful that the source of hope loves me and has a detailed plan on how to get me out.
  3. I am thankful that even if it is the end of my earthly days, I will go to be with God forever and ever.
  4. I am thankful that He is using trials in my life to make me like Jesus.
  5. I am thankful that joy will come in the morning.
  6. I am thankful that the Source of hope doesn’t run dry or quit.
  7. Today I am thinking thanks for hope because without it I could not really be th(i)nkful.

 

God-Prints

Hobby Lobby Joy

Elly, Julia, and I walked into Hobby Lobby. We were exhausted. We had one hour before the store closed, and we wanted to be refreshed. These past two weeks of hard work with training and child care had left us a little bedraggled and weary. a god-print 4

As we moved into the fabric section, I said,”Hey, keep an eye open for green material and for something that might have a phrase from Psalm 23.”  I make a new quilt for each of my grandchildren when they turn 12. Our second grandson is next in line for a 12-year-old’s quilt.  I seek to incorporate the 12 year old’s favorite color and Bible-verse in creating a twin size quilt. Austin had chosen green and Psalm 23.

Elly had some great ideas of using fleece-like material to represent the sheep. Julia showed a material that illustrated the valley of the shadow of death. I was getting inspired. 🙂

a God-print 2As we perused the variety of fabrics, my eyes caught this green fabric with something written on it. Could it be?? Was it really?? Yes, it was a green fabric with Psalm 23 printed on it. The whole Psalm!!! So cool. Julia and Elly both were amazed. What a God-print!

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Have you ever noticed God’s fingerprints? Many people stare right at them but don’t see them. They may see “luck” or “coincidence” because they’re not searching for the print of the person behind a sweet turn of events.

Latent fingerprints are placed wherever our fingers touch another smooth surface. Since the 1930’s, criminal investigators have used the practice of rendering hidden fingerprints visible by using a powder or a chemical agent to make a visual contrast between the ridge patterns and the surface where a fingerprint has been deposited.

a god-print 7If an investigator sees a woman across the way leave her glass at a table, he will not see her fingerprints on the glass from where he is sitting. He will believe they are there, and then investigate so that he can see what he already believes. Jesus said in John 20:29, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet still believe.” Augustine and Anselm echoed this same idea – believe to see, not see to believe.

Believe so that you may see; not see so that you may believe.

If you actively begin searching for the God-prints in your life, it won’t take long. They are all over the place. I love discovering them. Sometimes it is not too obvious, and you have to search intently. Like what investigators do, th(i)nkfulness “dusts” and then lifts the prints of our benevolent God.

I have a special journal in which I record things that are just a little out of the normal, something that has God’s fingerprints all over it. How encouraging it has been to my faith over the years to re-read those entries.  God desires for us to walk in intimacy with Him, trusting Him like a child would a beloved parent. As we nurture that relationship, He reveals Himself in precious ways.

The Print Lab

Screen Shot 2020-01-20 at 8.41.58 PMOnce an investigator has lifted a fingerprint, he or she returns to the lab to compare the prints with the database. The most potent database of God’s fingerprints is in His Word.  God’s Word is alive (Hebrews 4:12). You can read descriptions of His prints and see the circumstances in which they were detected and undetected by people and nations over a period of 1600 years!

Memorizing and meditating frequently on scripture moves His fingerprint data to your mind so that you can compare it with your circumstances at a moment’s notice. You start to see that His hands have touched, well, everything.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights. But God’s gifts are still “good and perfect” even if they are not our favorites. When we choose to trust that God has all things in control and loves us beyond measure, we are in a position to be th(i)nkful. We choose to think thanks for every fingerprint, and as we express that thankfulness, it breeds more gratitude.

Even if the God-Prints Hurt?

It is fine and jolly if all is going well, like finding perfect quilting material at Hobby Lobby. But what about when God allows pain and hurtful things in your life, when the dark things also have His fingerprints? How can I think thanks with tears streaming down my face?

  • God knows when things hurt.
  • He is fully aware of all the nuances of every detail of your pain.
  • He knows how many days you have been given.
  • He even knows what you are going to say next (Psalm 139:4).
  • He has promised to never forsake us. His fingerprints in the darkest valley of sorrow are even more precious.
  • Soon this life will be over. Jesus is coming back for us. How do I know that? Because He promised and He doesn’t lie. He can be trusted completely.
  • He is working on me to better work through me; I need to trust in His “greater good.”

Screen Shot 2020-01-20 at 8.53.58 PMChoose to trust the Lord’s character even when you cannot understand His ways. His fingers have shaped your path, so His fingerprints are there when you commit to searching for them. Think thanks in every God-print, joyful or difficult or frustrating.

Close the Door!

Baboons!

The large male baboon came right in our patio door, up across our bed, scaled a partition wall, and sauntered down on to the kitchen counter. We were standing right there, amazed and a bit afraid!

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Around the Drakensberg Mountains there are many troops of baboons. They meander the hillsides looking for anything edible. They are not aggressive unless attacked; it has been rumored that three baboons can take down a leopard.

Recently, my husband took me away for a two-night get away at a chalet in the Giant’s Castle Nature Reserve. It was lovely. The first night we had beautiful clear weather and got to fit in lots of hiking, drinking in God’s beauty in those magnificent mountains.a baboob blog 2

The next morning we got our surprise visit from this large baboon who rummaged through out kitchen shelves, helping himself to some Scandinavian knekkebrød and Fisherman’s Friend lozenges. Haha! He promptly spit out the lozenges, but the plastic bag with the knekkebrød interested him enough to take along as he scooted out the patio door.

We were sorry that we didn’t get it on camera, but joked around that the guy had quite the nerve to come maneuvering in while we were standing right there. The incident caused us to be more cautious to close the door completely as we moved in and out.

The next morning, I was sitting having my Bible time, when all of a sudden there was a loud sound at the patio door. The baboon was back and tried to open the closed door. Sadly for him the door was too hard for him to pull. No more knekkebrød for you, buddy.

Thinkful Lesson

I wonder how many “doors of the mind” we leave open, allowing the baboons of ingratitude in.  They slip in and start rummaging through everything in your life – “What is this?!  This is no good!  There isn’t enough of the good stuff here for me!  I’ll take this and this, and no, I won’t say thank you or acknowledge anyone else. This is all about me.” An unexamined heart and mind is no little thing. The baboon of ingratitude has to be kept outside!a baboon blog 3The baboon seemed so matter-of-fact, but he was a thief.  So is ingratitude – he steals away the good things you have all around you.  The things he leaves are polluted with his dirty feet, hands, and bottom; he coats your wonderful lozenges with saliva so they’re no good anymore.

That baboon had been in that chalet many times to grab things; his fear of authority had been overcome by the pleasure of his scavenging habit.  Even so, ingratitude can make a home in your mind, feeling that all your stuff is his stuff, caring not one bit that neither God nor you want him soiling your thoughts.

As the plaque on the chalet wall instructed us:

“You feed the baboons.
We shoot them.”

a baboon blogpost 7We were not trying to feed the baboons. We were getting ready to have breakfast and I had not even gotten the flatbread out of the plastic bag. 🙂  But the owners of the chalet knew that baboons must be kept out, must not be encouraged, and if need be, must be shot dead. So it is with ingratitude – keep it out, do not feed it, and if it is making a habit of entering your mind at will, you need to shoot it dead.

Close the Door to Ingratitude?

You get to choose what you think about. I know you feel like you can’t really control your thoughts, but that is a falsehood. You decide. Through the habit of ingratitude, you may have nurtured a network of neural pathways into your brain. It feels like your fault-finding, irritated, complaining thoughts jump in quickly and automatic and you have to just hang on.  Not so.  Take courage.  You do what you do … because you think what you think … because you want what you want.  🙂  You can, with God’s help, choose differently.a baboon blogpost 6

Instead let there be thanksgiving.

Ephesians 5:4b

When we decide, only with Christ’s strength, to forge a gratitude neural pathway, we have to close the door to the baboons of ingratitude.  It will try to push its way in, but you must see him as the enemy and not a furry friend who needs feeding.

Close the door!