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.

a blog on gates 11

 

a blog on gate 11

 

 

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

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

anxious 3

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

What Are You Wearing?

Your Character As Clothing

If your heart characteristics, and your corresponding behavior, could be visualized as clothing, what would your wardrobe look like?aa blog on put off: put on 2

Your suit of stateliness might be hanging there, or your mood-swing blouse with alternating black and white stripes.  The tie-dyed t-shirt of trouble-free unpredictability or your sweatsuit of steadfastness might be folded there on the shelf.  Do you still have that flannel shirt of forgiveness? And where is that cardigan of kindness that you used to wear all the time?

You Can’t Wear Everything At Once

There you stand wearing a winter coat. Oddly, now you try to put on a jacket over top of the coat.  It doesn’t work.  It is way too tight.  You don’t look normal, and you couldn’t act normally throughout your day.  There is a simple point: you don’t wear everything at once. You make a choice each day as to what you will put on.  And when there is a drastic change (cold to hot, office to sport, carpentry to surgery), you put off one set of clothes to put on another set that corresponds to the new demands of the day.

The visual of putting off and putting on clothing is a theme repeated throughout the Bible (Job 29:14; Psalm 132:9; Isaiah 61:3,10; 64:6; Zechariah 3:4; Revelation 19:13).

“The figure of changing clothes is, in good Hebrew tradition, an appeal to make an inward and spiritual change.” – Alan F. Johnson

The Replacement Principle – Put Off, Then Put On

aa-blog-on-put-off-put-on-1.jpgThe Apostle Paul used this wardrobe principle in “the twin epistles” – Ephesians and Colossians.  If you are following Jesus, “put off your old self … be renewed in the spirit of your minds … and put on the new self….” 

But in Colossians 3:5-17, Paul repeatedly stresses this change of clothing.  Your old “you” (enslaved to the power of Sin) died with Christ. Now, when you obey the internal impulses of Sin by committing sins, you make a fool of yourself.  You’re a child of the King! Why are you wearing those stinky old rags!?

  • Put to death [the list of sins] – v. 5
  • Put them all away [and another list of sins] – v. 8
  • You have put off the old self – v. 9

  • Put on the new self – v. 10
  • Put on [virtues that are listed] – v. 12
  • Put on love, which ties everything together – v. 14

At the end of this put-off-put-on passage, Paul gives us a hint at the importance of the garment of thankfulness – he mentions it three times in three verses.  This is the only such passage in the entire Bible.

“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 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.”  Colossians 3:15-17

Time To Go Searching or Shopping?

wardrobeHow often do you put on gratitude? Do you know where it is in your closet? Do you even own the garment?  You might need to go shopping.

But owning the garment is not enough. Thankfulness doesn’t just automatically spring from the closet and cling to your body in the morning.  You have to put on gratitude.  And in order for it to fit properly, you must first put off the musty coat of ingratitude.  So often, you think that life stinks, when actually it’s just your old coat.

So, aside from this garment metaphor, how do you actually change? The key lies in Ephesians 4:23 and Colossians 3:10: “Be renewed in the spirit of your minds.”

The New You and the New Clothes

The power of Sin used your bodily impulses to force you to commit “sins.” It also messed with your mind pushing you to control your world and everyone in it for your own happiness.  And the world was never fully right, so you were seldom truly happy, focused on the shortcomings of life rather than all that was amazing and good.

Then Jesus came.  Jesus put off the enjoyment of His glory so that He could put on our sins (2 Corinthians 5:21) – how’s THAT for a garment switch! – and then He sent His Spirit to help transform believers.  Your old self died when you believed in Christ (Romans 6:6, Colossians 3:3), and the new “you” was born.

Your old reasoning and old habits are your old clothes. You start out your Christian life with them, but they don’t belong in the wardrobe of the redeemed, so throughout your life, you are discovering and throwing away the old and replacing them with new reasoning and new habits.

Th(i)nkful – The All Weather Coat

aa blog on put off: put on 4Romans 12:2 says we are transformed by renewing the mind – learning to think God’s thoughts.  Life isn’t about me; it’s about God.  He is not my genie; I am His servant.  Earth is the unbeliever’s only heaven, and the believer’s only hell.  Hard times aren’t a disaster; God designs them to refine, strengthen, and improve me as an image-bearer of the Creator.

And knowing His lovingkindness, His meticulous care for me, His rock-solid promises, His infinite mind, His unchallengeable sovereignty, and my redeemed pathway, there is so very much to be thankful for.

There! I just bought a new golden jacket called “thinkful,” put my arms into the sleeves, and wow does it feel amazing!  This is a keeper.  I think this might be my favorite coat ever.

4 L’s

What Is Your Biggest Sin-problem?

My grad school professor looked at all of us in class and asked: “What is your biggest sin problem?”a 4 L's post 2 He said that, in order for us to learn to be good counselors of others, we first had to be able to self-counsel.  Our assignment was to identify a sin pattern that we personally struggled with and to track it for six weeks.

And so, we began. We charted when we struggled most, when we failed and gave in to the temptation, and when we were able to resist and have victory.  We studied out how to avoid the places of temptation, to be vigilant during the hours of typical temptation, how to respond when tempted, and how to fight back by renewing our thoughts, replacing the evil with the good. It was a very profitable and eye-opening assignment for me.

4 L’s

I would like to present a tool from James 1 that could perhaps help you fight temptation.  I am certain that, if you are human, you are fighting some kind of temptation.  It may be sexual sin, covetousness, lying, stealing, worry, gossip, anger, bitterness, selfishness, or greed.  The list is long. God can use the battles with these temptations to mold us into the image of His Son, the Lord Jesus, but the fight is REAL.

Here are the 4 L’s:

  1. Locate – identify the temptation (James 1:14)
  2. Link – connect the test with the Lord (James 1:2)
  3. Linger – stay a while with Him and describe the temptation with blatant honesty and cry for wisdom (James 1:5-6)
  4. Lieu – replace temptation with something (James 1:22)

a 4 L's post 3Locating or identifying the temptation is a huge part of victory (James 1:14).  Personally I struggle with worry.  It is insidious and sneaks into the depths of my soul.  I want to comfort-eat to relieve the pressure that I feel and get my mind off the vexatious thoughts. When I react sinfully, I feel badly afterwards because I know that I have not responded in a Christ-honoring manner. So if I am able to shine the flashlight on the temptation by locating it, that is a great start.

Linking or connecting the test with the a 4 L's blog 4Lord is the next key. We are told in James 1:2 that we are to count it joy when we are tested. Jesus said we should ask the Father, “do not to lead us into temptation.” He doesn’t tempt us with sin, but He allows the situation to make us stronger under pressure (vv. 3-4), and to motivate us to call out to Him for help (vv. 5-8).

In my own situation I felt like I could locate the temptation (anxiety) and link to the Lord right away by asking Him for help.  But I find that often my focus is still on the temptation – for instance, I am getting more anxious as I pray. 😦

But when I begin to think thanks within the test, and for the test, I am able to link more profitably with the Lord.  Saying out loud the things that I am thankful for right in the middle of the test, and then giving that thanks to God, grows my strength to fight.

“Count it all joy” means being th(i)nkful

a 4 L's post 5Lingering with the Lord and sharing honestly with Him what I am struggling with, and even what I am tempted to do in sinful reaction, is like releasing the pressure that the temptation builds up. The sin especially flees if I speak it out loud or write it down. You shock yourself as you see your hand spell out the sin.

Rehearsing the promises that 1) God was with me, and 2) He designed and desired me to be victorious, and 3) He made wisdom available for free if I confidently asked just fueled my courage to trust in His help.  If forgiveness was needed, He welcomed me with open arms. As I lingered with the Lord, my focus became different.

In Lieu Of, or the replacement principle, is the action part of winning over temptation. What you focus on you give power to.  If I say “don’t steal this, don’t steal this,” I am repeating “this” and “steal” many times – not good.  If I have the temptation to steal, I should immediately go to the front of the store and pay for someone’s purchase, or give a store clerk some money to say thanks for all of the people who don’t. Look at Ephesians 4:28!

This is the embodiment of being a doer of the word and not just a hearer (James 1:22-25).  I need to replace the temptation.  Problem with text-gossiping? Put it down and get busy. Think it out! Have a plan ready.a 4 L's post6.jpg

  • Get down and do 10 sit-ups
  • Put on your running shoes and get outside and run
  • Vacuum
  • Take a shower
  • Sing a chorus out loud
  • Read a book that edifies your soul
  • Write down 10 things that you are thankful for right now

Winning?

Hey, this is just a simple suggestion, but it is helping me.  When I did that six-week assignment back in grad school, it made me aware of how advantageous it is to have a plan.  Being th(i)nkful is a key in winning over temptation.

Download grace/help from the Lord to think thanks in every circumstance – even for tests, trials, and temptations – as James 1:2-4 mentions.  Then express that thanks orally or in a written form.  If you are in Christ, you don’t have to live a defeated life!

a 4 L's post 1

 

LOCATE  ~ LINK ~ LINGER ~ LIEU 

The Bane of Anxiety

My Nemesis

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

Who is in Control?

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

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

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

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

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

Battle For The Throne

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

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

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

Th(i)nkful and Anxiety

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

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

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

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

Carefree vs. Careless

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Power of Reflection

Being Hijacked at Gunpoint

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

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

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

Objective Experience vs. Subjective Experience

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

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

My Own Battle

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

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

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

A Challenge

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

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

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

Be Aware of Flawed Thinking

The Wrong Order

When we go through difficult seasons in life, it is tempting to get things cart_before_the_horse_pictures_30991in the wrong order. We tend to look first at our circumstances and try to interpret God’s love and care, which seems missing.

We loose sight of the big picture and run to put out the immediate fire. Fully understandably, but dangerous.

Our emotions are strong and demanding and we cave easily to their demands. We want relief and peace. If God really loves me and is all-powerful, surely He would want the same for me?Be Aware Sign

    Be Aware! 

Gracious Gratitude vs Natural Gratitude

Mary K. Mohler in her recent book, Growing in Gratitude, brings out the importance of Jonathan Edward’s distinctions of “Gracious Gratitude” versus “Natural Gratitude.”

  • Gracious Gratitude: This is thankfulness for God himself – for who He is
  • Natural Gratitude: This is thankfulness for blessings received – for good gifts

Gratitude that acknowledges and thanks God for who He is lays the foundation for natural thanksgiving for what He gives. When we really understand God’s character; that He is completely sovereign, perfect in love, self-existent, with no beginning or end, aware of everything and nothing is hidden from Him, and that He has provided a way through Jesus Christ to forgive all our sin and make us His sons and daughters, our trust in Him fills our perspective.

It lays the foundation for why I can think thanks about every circumstance in my life and express that thanks orally or in a written form.

The Right Order

When the correct view of God is settled in our mind, we can then choose to think thanks in every circumstance in our lives.  Horse before the cart 1The strength of being th(i)nkful can only come from trust in a sovereign Creator and God that is good and worthy.

His plan to make me conformed to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ, is clear from Romans 8:29. That sanctification may take me through seasons that frankly are quite uncomfortable, but knowing that He has an end product in mind gives me the grace to trust that He knows exactly what He is doing. I can be th(i)nkful in every circumstance.

“A thankful heart is one of the primary identifying characteristics of a believer. It stands in stark contrast to pride, selfishness, and worry. And it helps fortify the believer’s trust in the Lord and reliance of His provision, even in the toughest times. No matter how choppy the seas become, a believer’s heart is buoyed by constant praise and gratefulness to the Lord.”

John MacArthur

 

 

The Brain and Thinking

Our Amazing Brains

When God created mankind in His likeness, He gave us an amazing brain. Simply put, the brain controls the mental and physical processes and the actions of a human being.brain 3

Ready for a big word?  Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to change throughout an individual’s life.

It can be shaped very much like a ball of Play-Doh, albeit with a bit more time and effort. 🙂

Scientists claim that the brain is capable of being re-engineered – its shape, size, and functions modified – and that we are the engineers.

“Thought changes structure … I saw people rewire their brains with their thoughts, to cure previously incurable obsessions and trauma.” ~ Norman Doidge, Canadian-born psychiatrist and author of The Brain That Changes Itself.

Complaining and the Brain

My friend, Joanna Chapmon, sent me an article on how complaining affects the brain.brain 1 This is a visual of what happens when we constantly complain.

The neural pathways that we engage in when complaining actually change the shape of the brain, causing us to complain even more!

When we instead choose to be th(i)nkful, we can also change our brains. By choosing to think thanks about every situation in our lives we change the shape of our neural brain pathway making it easier to think thanks in the future.  Our brains are not stagnant, but continually change as they are programmed through repeated thoughts and attitudes throughout our days.

“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”
Proverbs 17:22

The admonitions in scripture from Ephesians 4:23 and Romans 12:2 sure make a lot more sense in the light of this discovery – we must renew our minds.  But amazingly, by doing so, we can actually change the inner workings of our brains to make renewed thoughts flow more naturally.  The Lord wants us to worship Him with our thoughts.  When we choose to think thanks, we are obeying His will for us as stated in Ephesians 5:20 and I Thessalonians 5:18.  Give thanks always in every circumstance!

Th(i)nkful’s Benefits

The brain article mentioned pointed out:

“In depression, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the brain. It’s simply that the particular tuning of neural circuits creates the tendency toward a pattern of depression. It has to do with the way the brain deals with stress, planning, habits, decision-making and a dozen other things — the dynamic interaction of all those circuits. And once a pattern starts to form, it causes dozens of tiny changes throughout the brain that create a downward spiral.”

Although there can be physical reasons for why someone becomes clinically depressed, there are often major reasons connected with the person’s thought patterns. Just think of the positive effects on a person’s brain when he/she engages in a pattern of th(i)nkfulness.

gibbJane Gibb, a dear co-worker of mine, shared with me how she was struggling with some stress at a particular time. She decided to engage thinking thanks about that situation, and as she cultivated the thought pattern of looking for things to give thanks for in her situation and started writing things down, the stress lessened.  She benefited.  She was putting God’s Word into practice by renewing her mind.

Challenge

So how are you programming your brain these days?  You are programming yourself whether on purpose, or not.  Do you naturally gravitate towards complaining about a situation or do you instead look for things to be thinkful about in that situation?

I challenge you to begin aggressively carving out some new th(i)nkful neural pathways that will not only help you grow in Christ as He desires, but also benefit you physically as well.

Further study:

  • Professor Richard Restak, Optmizing Brain Fitness.
  • Dr. Caroline Leaf, a South African neurologist,  has done extensive work on the thinking and the brain.

“It is only with gratitude that life becomes rich!”  –Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Second Right

Anxiety My Enemy

Anxiety is not my friend.

I have had a propensity towards being anxious as long as I can remember.  Philippians 4:6, which says, “Don’t be anxious about anything,”  has been a place where I have parked often.

Recently I had a friend point out some valuable insights into that passage. When you consider the verses that surround the famous verse 6, you get a better picture of what Paul was exhorting the Philippians to do.

4 Rights

Let’s take Philippians 4:5-9 apart. There are 4 Rights in this passage – Right Awareness, Right Praying, Right Thinking, and Right Practice.

1. Right AwarenessRight Awareness

(v.5 CSB) Let your graciousness [gentleness, reasonableness] be known to everyone.  The Lord is near.  When we are in a conflict or facing hard circumstances, that pressure can cause our words and reactions to be filled with spikes and poison.  We need to realize that God is right here in our presence (Matthew 28:20, 1 Corinthians 6:19, Hebrews 13:5-6), and we are right there in God’s presence (Ephesians 2:6, Hebrews 10:19-22)!

Every sin that we commit is a result of a wrong view of God. If we practiced His presence, we would sputter and fume less and speak to Him more.  Jesus tore down the curtain into the Holy Place by His work on the cross, and we are allowed to enter in without a priest and speak to the God who created or permitted these circumstances!  The Lord is near is a great reminder that we should turn our thoughts toward Him and pour out our hearts.  He is there observing us; He fights for us; He prays for us. He is at hand in formulating the trial and filtering the toxic to get us to trust Him and talk to Him.

2. Right Praying.

(vv.6-7) Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgivingRight Praying 2 let your requests be make known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

This SECOND RIGHT is the one I want to emphasize. In the middle of instructing us to ask God to respond to our needs in specific ways, Paul adds “with thanksgiving.”  We are to pray earnestly (“please help with this”) with thanksgiving (“thanks for this”). We need to think thanks about what is testing us and express that thanks to God.

How do we do that?  We choose to look for things that we can be th(i)nkful for right in the difficulty.  It is after praying this way that the supernatural peace comes that will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. In fact, some would argue that thanksgiving is the trigger for downloading God’s peace.

3. Right Thinking.Right thinking

(v. 8) 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.

Having rolled my burdens onto the Lord, it is amazing how quickly I grab them back and then stress over them as though I am the only God who can fix them.  Paul writes that the battle is in our meditations. I need to focus on what’s true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy.  By way of contrast,  what we should not think about are things that are untrue, improper, dodgy, blameworthy, evil, dubious, unethical, shameful, ignoble, and disgraceful, to name a few.

4. Right Practice.

(v.9) What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

So after we have now learned this new way of living – right awareness of the Lord’s presence right here, right now, right praying that always includes thanksgiving, and right thinking that fuels our outlook and conduct, we are to DO this over and over.  We practice this.  We are not just hearers of the Word, but doers.

Second Right

Being th(i)nkful is a direct cure for anxiety.  When we worry, we are not trusting that God is in control.  When we are th(i)nkful, we are resting in His sovereignty and choosing to meditate on all the things we can be thankful for instead of untruths that fuel our anxieties.

Dr. Shelbi Cullen, my counseling internship professor at Master’s Seminary, shared these thoughts to help me help others, but I have found that it is first helping me.  🙂

  1. Remember that the Lord is right nearby.
  2. Pray hard with thanksgiving.
  3. Think the right way.
  4. Practice these things.

Practice th(i)nkfulness to vanish anxiety