Complaining Shrinks Your Brain

How Big Is Your Brain?

A Southern Living article highlighted some recent research revealing that when you complain on a consistent basis, it actually shrinks your hippocampus. Talk about a health hazard!!

Research from Stanford University has shown that complaining, or even being complained to, for 30 minutes or more can physically damage the brain. Seriously. Complaining has been found to shrink the hippocampus, the area of the brain critical to problem solving and intelligent thought, by physically peeling away neurons.

For most of us, complaining has become such a part of life that it barely registers. We have developed “easy-complain” neural pathways that are greased and ready in our brains. Negative, murmuring, fault-finding, coming-up-short, not-quite-right, glass-half-full, this-will-end-badly thoughts find no barrier or balance but are drawn into the grooves quickly and easily. We have become pathological complainers.

Medium post by Mission.org explains this phenomenon perfectly: “The more you complain about things like flakey friends or being asked to push up a project’s deadline, the more neurons in your brain stitch themselves together to easily facilitate this kind of information. Before you know it, complaining becomes so easy for your brain to grasp, you start doing it without even consciously registering the behavior.”

Obedience Brings Brain Health

But even more motivating than the fact that grumbling and complaining shrinks our brains should be God’s instruction to us in Philippians 2:14, ” Do all things without grumbling ….”

God, who created the brain with all its function, also knows how we are to use it. At face value, thankfulness rather than complaining may seem like one of those good ideas God would want us to do for His pleasure. Yet as we look deeper into His ways, His commandments and precepts, we find that they are not burdensome but are specifically designed for our benefit and well-being. There is actually a link between thankfulness and your health, and specifically the size and function of your brain.

Give thanks in all circumstances,” He admonishes us in 1 Thessalonians 5:18. He describes a successful person as “abounding in thanksgiving” (Colossians 2:7).

The thoughts you allow to have free reign in your brain neural pathways are what you eventually become. Without discipline, you can allow sinful thoughts to program your mind and alter the electro-physical patterns of your brain. This will make positive changes to your thinking much harder to achieve later on. Aggressive weeding of complaining early on is essential to develop brain fitness and power.

Substitute th(i)nkfulness for complaining! Pull up a level or two to God’s perspective. Choose to form neural pathways of looking for things to think thanks about and express that thanks to God, others, and yourself. Let your ears hear your gratitude.

Basically, your brain makes sure that complaining begets more complaining, sabotaging itself in the process. So, the next time you find yourself on the verge of a grumble-fest, try to shift your focus to something you’re grateful for—your brain and your friends will thank you.

https://www.southernliving.com/news/complaining-changes-your-brain

In the Mundane

Thinking Thanks in the Mundane

“Today I didn’t ‘waste’ the mundane. It was a temptation to view folding laundry as a nuisance. But today it turned into something with eternal value. The Holy Spirit urged me to pray as I folded Josiah’s shirt: I thought about his heart. I thought about King Josiah of the Bible (his namesake) and prayed, ‘Lord, give Josiah the desire to be a man after your heart, like King Josiah.’ Josiah’s socks: ‘Oh Lord, let Josiah be a man that runs hard after You.’

Sarahlyn’s little tea towels: ‘Lord, thank you for a little girl that wants to spend time with me drinking tea. Thank you for her heart to serve.’ Emily’s shirt: ‘Lord, use her mightily and her heart for writing music to glorify Your name. Use her Lord.’ And on and on I prayed until every piece was folded, matched, and grouped together.

The job became a joy and my thankfulness for each person and God’s goodness to me nearly spilled out of my eyes. 🥲 It’s incredible how many thoughts we can have in the mundane that have very little value. That can even be in a spirit of complaining or self-pity, or about something that isn’t good and pure. No benefit whatsoever. They can even be working against God’s best for us. But turn that time into a moment to thank Him and pray, then you’ve done kingdom work. Those are thoughts worth dwelling on. That is worth my time. We have a choice what we do with our minds in the ‘mundane.’ (At any time really.)

What if we choose to meditate on what’s good? What if even in those menial tasks that we can easily resent or see as a less desirable way to spend our time, we chose to use it as an investment… into the heart and soul of another, a deposit for eternity? What if we chose to pray? What if we chose to give thanks along the way? What a difference that would make today AND in eternity.”

This was written by my dear friend, Dawn. She has been a great inspiration to me throughout the years. I love how she takes the everyday mundane and makes it into a teaching tool.

Everyday 1 Thessalonians 5:18

When the Lord says to give thanks in all circumstances, he means giving thanks not just for the hard times, but even in the everyday mundane. I begin by being th(i)nkful, disciplining my thoughts to search for the good, the meaningful behind the mundane, asking His Spirit to guide my thoughts as a radar to spot the undetected.

Formulating that thanks into a prayer thanking the Lord for the gems in the mundane is like making an eternal deposit, turning cardboard into emeralds. In addition to that, when you weave into your prayer specific requests for the people connected to that mundaneness, your intercession not only encourages your own heart, but also brings a blessing for people outside yourself.

How could you be th(i)nkful in the mundane today?

Make-or-Break

Make-or-Break

Have you had a ‘Make-or-Break’ time in your life? It feels like the weight of your actions will have long term effects on your future.

Make-or-Break ~

used to describe a decisioneventor period of time that is very important because it can make something succeed or fail completely

Cambridge English Dictionary

The specifics of your ‘Make-or-Break” situation could be very different from the next person’s. Some people battle health challenges, family challenges, financial challenges or ‘fill in the blank’ challenges.

David and I are very interested with the specific challenges of moving into a new culture as much of our work involves those hurdles. Jumping into a new country with so many things that are completely different from what I have been used to is difficult indeed. Perhaps learning a new language, local taboos, event v. clock time, roles and responsibilities, and very different cultural traditions are part of that learning curve. In Colorado there is an organization that specializes in helping to prepare people for moving into another culture. I was fascinated to learn recently of the value that they put on gratitude.

“The president of MTI has been studying missionary resilience, and one of the main make-or-break characteristics is gratitude.”

Start Easy

“So what is easy for you to give thanks for and what is difficult for you to give thanks for?” The question lingered in the air for a moment. It was easy to quickly give thanks for some helpful things that had happened recently. But choosing to give thanks for the frustrations and ‘out-of-my-comfort-zone’ things were harder. He started with the easy stuff.

  • The sun was actually shining today and brightening things
  • Although my head still hurt, it was manageable
  • We were able to find a store in this new country and buy food
  • God’s Word was truth and helpful in all cultures
  • Our children are healthy so far

The list was just gaining momentum. Then the heavy thought of difficulties, frustrations and overwhelming challenges flooded his mind. Can I think thanks for that visa office, that septic smell, those empty grocery shelves, those staring eyes and people taking our pics with their phones? Give thanks for that yucky stuff???

When you have started a pattern to be looking for things to think thanks about, and expressing that thanks orally to God and to others, you are in a good rut. According to the president of MTI (Missionary Training International), you have begun to develop a ‘Make-or-Break’ habit that could make a huge, defining difference in your life. It could mean your growing success on the field, or concluding your ministry after less than one term.

Stress Exposes

Stress exposes what we are really trusting in. To go through a stressful time is not very pleasant, but it is revealing to discover where we go to cope. When we choose to invest in gratitude and deliberately develop and train ourselves towards th(i)nkfulness, we are building a good foundation that will hold when the blustery winds of adversity and struggle assail.

You could express your thanks orally to others or write it down, but in order for those beautiful fruits to be brought forth, you first have to cultivate that gratitude in your mind. It is a battle that takes place in your thinking. Will I choose to pursue and exercise gratitude, especially when I am overwhelmed and frustrated, and discouraged?

“The more we express our gratitude to God for our blessings, the more He will bring to our mind other blessings. The more we are aware of hidden gifts to be grateful for, the happier we become.”

Ezra Taft Benson

Why not start today in developing gratitude? Set a goal of expressing something you are thankful for in the presence of another person and see how it affects them? See how it affects you. 🙂

The Aroma

Aroma Drifting In

The loud sound of grinding coffee beans burst forth from the kitchen … followed predictably and delightfully by the aroma of coffee grounds, and then a few minutes later, by the wafting wonderfulness of freshly brewed coffee. I couldn’t see it, but its presence was detected by the nose.

Steaming hot water poured over crushed coffee beans creates a specific aroma. I don’t drink coffee myself, but I sure enjoy the smell of coffee.

Fragrance of Christ

God uses the picture of aroma when describing us walking in victory with Him. All the glory goes to Him. He has conquered us. It is His victory that we get to be part of. He has taken us captive. We are vehicles of the fragrance of Christ.

“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.”

2 Corinthians 2:14-15

John MacArthur describes diffusing the fragrance of His knowledge this way: “The imagery comes from the strong, sweet smell of incense from the censers in the triumph parade, which, along with the fragrance of crushed flowers strewn under horses’ hooves, produced a powerful aroma that filled the city. By analogy, every believer is transformed and called by the Lord to be an influence for His gospel throughout the world.”

Have you pondered what that aroma of Christ smells like?

We are emanating a fragrance. We smell.

When the Lord describes us spreading the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere, I envision a person who is reflecting Jesus. Through our engaging of people, our thoughtful and kind words, our facial expressions, and our body language, we are wafting unmistakable scents that, in God’s estimation, smell better than coffee, jasmine, or fresh pastry … they smell like His Son who paid for our sins on the cross and rose again to be victor over death and the grave.

But there is a crowd of unregenerate believers watching our procession. To some, the aroma emanating from the procession is repulsive and offensive, representing ignorance and delusion; in their thinking, these people are just captured slaves of the victor, brainwashed, hopeless. Others are still watching and sniffing; some may be your children.

But there are others in the crowd whose hearts are strangely enamored with the victor who seems to be a benign conqueror who has actually taken these people captive for their own good. The heads of the slaves are high, their faces noble; some are even smiling. No one is struggling to break loose; they carry no shame or fear. Amazingly, they are slaves who have been set free from their old world. The sight and the smell draw the watchers forward and they feel this strange compulsion to jump into the procession; to join the slaves.

What Fragrance Are You?

Missionary Dawn Perry shared with me recently that she had been studying about this triumphal procession that the Lord leads us in. We are in this parade, not because of ourselves, but because of what Christ has done.

And as we walk through life in this procession, we give off a fragrance that not only reminds our God of His Son, but is affecting the onlooking crowd as well. Verses 15-16 continue: “we are a fragrance … among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” Will the crowd be drawn to us or repelled by us? Every act, every word to a nonbeliever who knows I am a believer either pulls or pushes them. We are being watched. We are being smelled.

Dawn highlighted the Th(i)nkful Tree concept. She recalled that when we choose to embrace and think thanks about the hard things in our lives, we are like the tree drawing up the living water from where our roots are grounded to keep our leaves green. Living leaves smell different from dead leaves, and the blossoms that break forth after a tough winter bring their own wafting scents and feathery joys.

The testimony of a person practicing th(i)nkfulness gives off a strong fragrance of Christ. Oh, may we smell good! To our God chiefly, but also to a sniffing and skeptical world.

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 Season of Faith’s Perfection

Ian and Freda

“The paper is lying on the kitchen table,” Ian told his dear wife Freda. “Just jot down something that you’re thankful for as you pass by.” And so, they each began to compile a list.

Freda had struggled with cancer for 20 years. Slowly it was winning, and now it was invading the neural pathways in her brain. Ian and Freda were both Afrikaners living in South Africa and loved the Lord. They were walking this difficult season together. As Ian moved through his day, he often found opportunity to stop by the kitchen table and jot something down that he was thankful for. Not so easy for Freda. She tried and a few things made their way to the list, but it was hard.

David and I had the privilege of meeting Ian Murray recently and he shared this story with us. His Freda has been gone for 12 years now, but by God’s grace, he “landed on his feet.” He continues to serve the Lord and to find purpose in God’s sovereign plan for his life. We were amazed at his kind and gentle ways of trusting in our God. He reinforced in our minds the strength that comes from focusing on thinking thanks, even in your darkest times.

Living with Hope

Facing struggles almost always makes us initially doubt God’s love for us. That’s a big and persistent flaw in our thinking – when our circumstances turn dark, we think God’s attitude toward us is also dark. When our wind is contrary, God is angry with us. When I am hit with one setback after another, God is really irritated with me and feels it is payback time. And we believe the inverse as well – that when there is good health and wealth and smooth sailing, God really loves me. This is such a wrong view of God and of the usefulness of the circumstances He has chosen for us.

“We must see our circumstances through God’s love instead of, as we are prone to do, seeing God’s love through our circumstances.”

Jerry Bridges, Trusting God Even When Life Hurts

We need to remember that God is committed to re-forming and con-forming us to the character of His Son. Romans 8:28-29 promises that all the things in our lives – the wonderful, average and horrific – work together for our good. That ‘good’ is our being made like Jesus … Jesus, who was loved by the Father using every superlative, but who went through suffering, loneliness, misunderstanding, hostility, injustice and a slow murder. Do you see the problem of connecting my circumstances with God’s emotions toward me? It robs me of the hope – the steady confidence I have in His love for me and commitment to my good.

God will accomplish His work in us and His mission through us until we finish the days He has numbered for us. He won’t miss one detail. Psalm 139:16 tells us that all of us have an allotted number of days to live. The tally of Freda’s days were determined before there was yet one of them. When we rest in the sovereignty of the Lord, we can look past the challenges that confront us presently. We can look to the Orchestrator of my circumstance for help and hope. He gives grace. A little at a time. We can make it holding tightly to Him because the Orchestrator is also the Sustainer.

What Happens When We Are Thinkful?

There is an interesting phenomena that happens when we choose to think thanks. The brain neural pathways we develop start searching for other similar things to travel those pathways. The mind begins to sluff off the discomforts and irritations we face, and although those hardships may still be very much present, the focus has been moved to find grateful things. Emotions may not applaud at first, but they are fickle and soon trail along.

Another thing that happens is that we become a testimony to others. Just like when David and I sat around Ian’s table and he shared with us about his wife and the journey they had together. David and I were edified by their example. We were strengthened to also follow in that kind of pattern. Struggles we will always have. The Lord Jesus promised us that. It is how we process the struggles and move through them that makes the difference.

It was the discipline of listing thanks in a trying time that was the key for Ian and Freda. Yes, it didn’t change that Freda passed on to glory, but it made a difference in how those preceding days were spent. Thankfulness brought them through the season of faith’s perfection as she swung out into eternity on the promises of God and faith fell away because it was replaced by sight.

What About You?

So if it was your story, how would you pass the time? Now Freda’s faith has been made perfect, but what about that season that we, on earth, are still going through as our faith is being perfected?

Anxiety v. Hope

Beyond Hope?

If another person would look at his situation, they would not see much hope. He was, like, ancient.  She was decades beyond fertility.  It looked impossible, hopeless.  BUT…Abraham did not give in to anxiety. He had been given a promise by God.

Romans 4:18, 20-21

In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.”

No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised.

The Weight of Hope on Your See-Saw

Have you ever pictured your emotions on a see-saw as life goes by?  On the one side you have the weight of anxieties and on the other is the weight of your hope.  How heavy is your hope?

aaa see-saw-faith

Compare these two definitions:

HOPE: a confident expectation

VS

ANXIETY: a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome

Which side is winning in your thoughts?  How heavy is your hope?  When anxiety sits down, does your cardboard hope launch into the air and waft down to a useless place nearby?

You may ask, “how can I possibly add weight to my hope?”  It feels so light and flimsy.

Turning the Weight of Difficulty into the Weight of Hope

Romans 5:3-5 gives us steps to build hope in our lives.

“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope and hope does not put us to shame [will not disappoint], because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

We begin with thankfulness for the weight of difficulty.  All of our suffering is structured and purposeful; God is behind it, with His inimitable smile and His eagerness for us to succeed.  So, we start by rejoicing, thinking thanks, about our sufferings (difficulties, weights and pains in life).  God’s Word says that suffering builds our endurance, which is hanging on and doing what’s right even though we are thinking about how tough this is.

But over time, endurance builds character, which is doing right without really thinking much about how tough things are.  When you have learned character, this gives you hope, a confident expectation that God is pleased and will one day reward you for sticking with it through difficulties.  You won’t be disappointed!

Through this process, you turn the weight of difficulty into the weight of HOPE!  Heavyweight hope defeats anxiety in the boxing ring almost every time.

Some of you were very anxious about the coronavirus in March, but as the months roll by, things have actually gotten worse but you are more used to bearing the weight of that difficulty, and are trusting in the Lord more steadily.  Your endurance is becoming character, and as you please the Lord by trusting in His promises and sovereign plan, you take things in stride. Your hope is in Him, not in your country, not in the politicians, and not in the medical experts.

Confident Despite the Odds

Abraham lived about 4000 years ago. He chose to trust in God’s promises to him. He suffered for decades without a son. He learned endurance. After a while, his character took it in stride and he built a heavyweight hope in God.aaa seesaw 1

His confident expectation in God’s promises was greater than his confident expectation that he would never have biological children.  Because Abraham counted God able to do what He had promised, God says that it was counted to him as righteousness (Rom. 4:22).

God kept His promise to Abraham.  He is going to keep His promises to you, too.

Our Father is unable to break His promises to us. When He promises that He will send His Son back for us, it can be trusted. When He promises that all things work together for our good of being conformed to the image of His Son, we can rest in that. When He promises that He will give us wisdom when we ask, we can count on that.

“For in hope we have been saved … if we hope for [confidently expect] what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it” Romans 8:24-25.

Th(i)nkful Boost

What suffering could you rejoice in today? How could you give thanks for challenges in your life that threaten to weigh you down and steal your hope?

It starts with one step. Think of one difficult thing today that you could rejoice about and give thanks for.  Write it down or share it orally with another person.  Get in the habit of sharing every day one thing that you are thankful for.  It will boost your hope.

Abraham felt like it was impossible, but his emotions were wrong.  He chose to believe. With God all things are possible and He keeps His promises.aaa seesaw

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.  Has he said, and will he not do it?  Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?  Numbers 23:17

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).

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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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