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 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?

How Can I Stop Being Anxious?

She cornered me in the hallway. “Ok, so I agree with you that being anxious should not be part of my identity, but I am so lost. Could you possibly give some basic help – some tools to get me on the right track on dealing with my anxieties?”

Knowing what we should do … and actually doing it … are two very different things. I think, for the most part, we usually know what we should do, but putting feet to that knowledge and becoming a ‘doer of the Word’ is a bit more challenging.

Root Check

Although you may dislike the word repentance, that is what is necessary to pull up the weeds of anxiety from the roots and to replace them with trust in God.

“Critical to your complete change is your agreement with God that anxious thoughts are sinful! You must see them as a cancerous toxin fully enveloping and choking out all your profitable thoughts and relationships.”

John and Janie Street, The Biblical Counseling Guide for Women

There are two basic root systems that spawn the weeds of anxious thoughts. The first is UNBELIEF; put inversely, the belief that God is not faithful – He is not here, He does not care, He is busy elsewhere, He is not in control, or He is in control and taking my situation the way I do not like. I don’t trust that He is really going to take care of the problem or give me the grace to get through it. I will be hurt needlessly.

The second root is a love of CONTROL. Here in Africa, most people are used to things being delayed or not working or being closed or cancelled. It builds a resignation into your soul – life is beyond my control, so I will not get stressed about these things but will wait and keep trying.

Others puff and flutter and ask for a supervisor and demand explanations because they have places to be. They whirl about in disbelief because they love control and are being denied that control … because the power is out … again. They have a very keen and precise sense of order, and neither God nor man seem to live up to that standard. They feel that they know better.

These are the two roots of anxiety. When we take responsibility for sin and seek God’s forgiveness, there is a clean slate to begin to build correct thought patterns. If we become convinced of God’s faithfulness to us and His meticulous control over our circumstances, we are spraying Round-Up on those weeds.

Here are 10 Bible verses to look up on God’s faithfulness:

  • I Corinthians 10:13
  • I John 1:9
  • 2 Thessalonians 3:3
  • 2 Timothy 2:13
  • Hebrews 10:23
  • I Peter 4:19
  • Psalm 9:12
  • Psalm 86:5, 15
  • Ephesians 2:4-9
  • I Thessalonians 5:23-24

God is God, and God is Good, and God is Good at being God.

When the Weeds Sprout

To begin with, ask yourself if you really want to get rid of your anxiety? Is there a small chance that you don’t? I know it sounds ridiculous to say that you enjoy your sin, but be brutally honest and answer it. Do you love control? Do you love the attention of others that you get by complaining about your difficulties?

That is not ok. It is not excusable.

So… learn to read yourself when you are beginning to fall into the anxiety trap. Think of an alarm going off.

1, 2, 3 Plan

  • 1st Time: The first time you see the anxiety sprout, look for a new verse on anxiety in the Scripture and write it out on a card.
  • 2nd Time: The second time you sense you see anxiety popping up, sing a chorus of thankful worship to the Lord. If you can’t sing, play it out loudly for you to hear.
  • 3rd Time: The third time you catch yourself watching the weeds, pray about a person that you know who is going through a hard time and send them a text or note.

If you get to a 4th time, start the first one over again. This will break the anxiety habit faster than you think. You will begin to grow in knowledge of Scripture verses on anxiety, in singing worship choruses to the Lord and in compassion for others. Selfish anxiety will have to move out of the way; you are overcoming evil with good. It may take a while, but slowly anxiety has to go.

Cast It

Some situations cause us serious concern. Paul, who wrote “don’t be anxious about anything” also confessed that he daily felt anxiety for the churches (same Greek word). So what do we do if any objective person would have concern, or if one of those stress-free easy-going people would even be concerned?

King David wrote, “Cast your burden on the Lord and He will sustain you” (Ps. 55:22). In I Peter 5:7, Peter exhorts us to cast our anxieties on the Lord because He cares for us. Have you ever thought about the concept that in order for you to cast something, you have to RELEASE it? The word means to hurl, or throw, of if it is very heavy, to roll.

Those who are "casters" - whether fishermen casting a line or athletes throwing a javelin - must train themselves.  "Train yourself for godliness" (I Timothy 4:7b).  

Learn to fight the anxious tendencies by believing in God's faithful character, yielding to His control, replacing anxious thoughts with righteous activity, throwing your problems on God's lap, and thinking thanks about everything from small to great.

“Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength – carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” ― Corrie Ten Boom

I Just AM Anxious

Identity

I have red hair.  I used to hate it when I was growing up, but I got used to it … and now because my husband loves it, I actually like it. 🙂  I couldn’t really change that I was born a redhead.

I also couldn’t change who my parents were. Emil and Asta were my parents and that was out of my control. Another thing I couldn’t change was that I was born a sinner with different propensities.

I struggle with anxiety.

There it is. It is ugly and not right, but I am tempted in that way.

When the Lord redeemed my soul, some beautiful, hope-filled things happened.

I received a new identity.

  • I am a child of God – John 1:12
  • I am an adopted child – Ephesians 1:5
  • I am accepted – Romans 15:7
  • I am full in Christ – Colossians 2:9-10
  • I am no longer a slave to sin – Romans 6:6
  • I am created in the image of God – Genesis 1:27
  • I am known before birth – Jeremiah 1:5
  • I am part of the body of Christ – I Corinthians 12:27
  • I am part of a chosen people, God’s special possession – I Peter 2:9
  • I am part of a diverse oneness in Christ – Galatians 3:27-28
  • I am bought by God – I Corinthians 6:19-20
  • I am hidden with Christ in God – Colossians 3:1-3

Arrest!

When the covid restrictions first started here in South Africa, President Ramaphosa deployed 73,180 soldiers to help enforce the lockdown. The soldiers would arrest, apprehend, seize, and take people into custody who were defying the covid restrictions laid down by law. It was frightening to see the law enforced, but in another way it was refreshing to see that people couldn’t just do what they wanted without consequences.

When the Lord tells me in Philippians 4:6 to not be anxious, it is not merely a little suggestion for me to consider. He forbids it. He says to arrest it! This is something that hits me between the eyes because of my tendency to worry.

Identity

Because I am redeemed, and my sin is something that I am trying to combat and minimize in my life, I certainly will not identify myself by my sin or argue with those who refuse to see me that way.

My identity is not in my anxiety. “Hi, I’m Karin and I’m anxious.” No, I mustn’t identify myself by my sin struggles, and certainly mustn’t say that I can’t help it, that this is just the way God made me. Confessing my faults is one thing, but wrapping my identity around something I am fleeing is quite another.

I must instead identify as a blood-bought and beloved daughter of the King who is no longer a slave to sin. My identity is determined by redemption, not by fallenness. By the future and not the past. “Hi, I’m Karin and I’m a believer in Jesus.” The Lord has promised to slowly and surely conform me to His image in Romans 8:28-29, so why would I keep referencing my old-self image that i am trying to put off?

Jesus wants me to identify as a member of His kingdom, to reflect His values and character, and to identify with a hopeful future with Him. I try to remember this, but wow, sometimes I fail miserably.

Hope

I love how hope is described in Romans:

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

Romans 15:13

You can be free. You are able through the power of the Holy Spirit to obey the Lord when He says, “Don’t be anxious.” What is super cool is that He tells us how in Philippians 4:6.

Steps from anxiety to hope:

  1. Bring all your concerns to the Lord. Lay them out before Him.
  2. Connect your concerns with thankfulness. Think thanks about the challenges that you face.

If we do those two things, Philippians 4:7 promises that the Lord will give us His supernatural peace to guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. That is a pretty nice trade-off. 🙂

Now I know that it is not easy, simple or quick to change life patterns. It is a process. Sometimes a life-long process. The fight is happening in your thoughts. You can choose to ask God to help you think His thoughts. It may take a long time. He patiently walks with us and gives grace.

New Identity

So yes, I have had a struggle with anxious thoughts, but my identity is not in my struggle. My identity is that I am a daughter of the King. He has purchased me and provided me with hope to be renewed in my mind and to obey and follow Him. (Check out a link on this topic).

“Either you will be getting your identity vertically, from who you are in Christ, or you will be shopping for it horizontally in the situations, experiences, and relationships of your daily life.”

Paul David Tripp

Put a Log in the Way

Create an Obstacle

How do you stop movement along a well worn pathway? You put a log in the way. You create an obstacle.

a blog about obstacles

When driving down this road, all of a sudden there is no way that I can continue driving when I reach this log. I am going to have to do something different. I have to carve a new pathway around the obstacle.

The best way to stop doing something is to replace it with something else. 

At first this new pathway feels so hard and unfamiliar. It has not been worn down and made smooth by people walking on it repeatedly. It is new and a bit bumpy. The way is not obvious. I may have to improvise as I go along.

a blog about obstacles 3

This new path has to be developed and that takes time and effort. Step by step you begin. Baby steps, that is.  In time and through repeated efforts, you mat down the grass and smooth out the path. You may need to get a shovel and dig out a big stone or cut back a root that is sticking out. It begins to change, little by little. One day you could even run that new path with no problem.

Our brains are very similar. To break behavior that is not pleasing to the Lord, we call on Him to help us reset our minds and carve a new path of thinking.

Carving a New Path

When stopping a sinful habit of complaining and grumbling, it will normally take something big, like a log across my familiar path, to stop it.  Sometimes a family member will mention your negative attitude – they are throwing some branches across the path to get you to change. But you don’t.

Then the Spirit convicts you strongly about your complaining spirit during your pastor’s message, or you are dismissed from a ministry, or passed over for a promotion at work, because you are so negative – and that’s when the tree falls across the path.  You disregarded branches, so God sent you a log.  Now, you deliberately resolve to do things differently.aaa log post

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Romans 12:2

As we continually present ourselves as a living sacrifice to the Lord, He will enable us to change. We desire to be conformed to His will (I Thessalonians 5:18), but it is not easy to leave the broad and easy road of complaining to follow God’s ways through the woods.

So, when forging a new pathway, it is profitable to have a basic plan in hand. How would you lay out a plan for creating a new neural pathway in your brain? Does God really expect me to do this? What are the benefits? How hard will it be?

a blog about obstacles 4

Setting Alarms

You could set up an alarm system for yourself. What little alarm could go off when I begin to go down that old blocked dead-end road?

  • Maybe I could cut out a little red stop sign that would be a visual reminder throughout my day that I need to stop my normal pattern of grumbling and complaining.
  • Maybe I need an accountability partner (your kids would be glad to help!) to give a funny sign when I begin my old pattern of complaining – the slash of a hand across the throat, or dotting fake tears down the face with an index finger.

Reprograming by Recounting

Psalm 9 has some great advice for us. The psalmist says, “I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.” He had discovered the worth of the gratitude neural pathway. Learning to recognize and recount God’s work in our lives brings glory to God, but also helps our brain change as we turn an action into a habit. It gets our perspective on who God is, His character and His sovereignty. It fosters our ability to trust in Him.

Set up a routine of saying three things you are choosing to think thanks about at a certain time and place each day.  When you wake up, try to think of those three things before you even get about of bed. If you’re not a morning person, you could wait until after coffee.  Maybe it can be at dinner time; if you do it then, you may inspire other family members to follow.  The routine is strongest if you see your hand write the words. Get a basic journal and begin recording these three things right before bed; you may have added more by then. 🙂

At first it will not feel natural to do this – it’s a brand new pathway through the woods! But I can promise you that after keeping this pattern for a month, it will begin to be so natural that it barely takes a minute or two to complete this.  The reset of your mind is taking shape. You are becoming more focused on the Lord God. The pathway in your brain is developing.

The blocked mental path has now made way for a different one ~

A  mental path that will become easier and easier to go down as we obey the Lord in calling out to Him for grace.

aaaa blog

Not Just Thankful For

“Just Be Thankful,” She Said

“Whoah, I’d rather not write down a list of things I’m thankful for.”  The counselor’s eyebrows went up in disbelief.  Was this newer believer that bitter?  “Can you explain why?” the counselor asked slowly.

It turns out that, as a life-coach a few years ago, she was very much into these practices of making gratitude lists.  She was well indoctrinated with self actualization methods and had taught people about harnessing energy by expressing thankfulness.  Now, as a believer in Christ, she had a different goal of serving Christ instead of channeling internal energies.  She wanted to forget that life.

a blog on thanking God

Being thankful, and expressing thankfulness, has become an important mantra in multiple self-help fields around the world.  Believer or non-believer, it doesn’t matter. Being grateful, forging new neural pathways of thanks in the brain, is now being strongly promoted as part of well being. Who you direct your thanks to is not important, many would say.  All that matters is that you are thankful.

To Whom Are You Thankful?

Does that matter?

Yeah, it does. A LOT!  Being th(i)nkful is not just learning to think thanks in every circumstance in your life; there are two additional components involving God, one coming and one going:

  • It first involves downloading grace from the Lord to stop, think and recall things to be thankful for;
  • It secondly involves uploading thanks directed at Him from whom all blessings flow and who is Sovereign over even the negatives in your life.

We are to be thankful FOR.  But even more, thankful TO!  To thank is to throw credit to someone else; to return a favor with words.  Acknowledging who is responsible for everything that you are thankful for is KEY in thinking thanks.

a blog on thankful to 1

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it

is like wrapping a present and not giving it to someone.” 

William Arthur Ward

Thankful TO

Directing our thanks to God is what sets a believer apart from an unbeliever. Anyone can be thankful and it reaps wonderful benefits in our minds and even bodies. But directing our thanks to God is what the Lord has asked of us.

When the scriptures exhort us to be thankful in all circumstances (I Thessalonians 5:18) or to give thanks always and for everything (Ephesians 5:20) that gratitude needs to be directed to Him. Because I can trust His sovereignty and His ways, I can then, in response, think thanks and express it to Him in trusting obedience.

a blog on thankful to 4

Lilac Breasted Rollers happen to be my favorite bird. I love to see them in the savannah. When I think and express thanks for that precious bird, I must direct that thanks to the creative God who created it using almost every color on His pallet.

He is the One I give my thanks to.

When I realize that I am choosing to give thanks to God, the worldly exercise of making gratitude lists to produce positive energy loses its power. I am not just thankful FOR, but more importantly thankful TO.

I thank You, my God and my Father.

a blog on hope 4

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

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