In Beauty and Brokenness

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

Creative in Beauty

Our God is creative.

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

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

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

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

Creative in Brokenness

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

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

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

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

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

You & Me & the Gospel

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

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

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

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

Beauty Created From Brokenness

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

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

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

Creativity 5.jpeg

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

Max Lucado

 

The Bane of Anxiety

My Nemesis

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

Who is in Control?

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

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

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

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

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

Battle For The Throne

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

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

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

Th(i)nkful and Anxiety

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

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

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

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

Carefree vs. Careless

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

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

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

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

 

 

Choose to Think

How Many Thoughts Do You Have a Day?

Have you ever thought about how many thoughts you think a day?

“According to the research of Dr. Fred Luskin of Stanford University, a human being has approximately 60,000 thoughts per day—and 90% of these are repetitive!”       

I do feel that at least for me many of those thoughts are monkey thoughts, jumping from one place to the next and sometimes in quick succession. 🙂 It’s amazing how quickly my thoughts can run.

In the last week I have had two people send me articles that had reminded them of being th(i)nkful.  By the way, I love that.  Thanks.  It is great fodder for more blog posts.  The topic of our brain and how it works is especially interesting to me.  I love how our Creator made it so that if you concentrate on one thing, there may be benefits that you didn’t even think of.

For example Dr. Earl Henslin, author of This is Your Brain on Joy, claims that the emotions of joy and anxiety travel the same pathway in the brain.  If being th(i)nkful is the primary thought, it pushes out anxiety thoughts.

So How Do You Spend Your 60 000?

What if you could hook up a wire to your brain and all your thoughts would register on a computer monitor?  Wow!  What if an app categorized the thoughts?  What would the printout of your thoughts look like?  choose to think2

I find that convicting and inspiring at the same time!

I love that the brain is not set forever, like drying concrete, but the Lord gives me the opportunity every moment to reprogram, overwrite, and reshape my thought patterns.  I know that through His grace-enabled discipline – choosing the next right thought – that I can wrap my mind and heart around ideas that are pleasing to Him and follow the eight guidelines from Philippians 4:8.  But I must choose what I think, and not let the monkeys of fear, worry, bitterness, discontentment, and envy run wild.

Now it is not so easy to control what you think about.  It is actually super hard. Not impossible, but a fight. It marks the difference between a person who is a slave and a person who chooses to think.

Retraining the Mind

Romans 12:2 says to 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.” Pretty cool, heh?

Doing the will of the Father is extremely important – it is the test of whether you are a true believer (Matthew 12:50)!  Normal human thinking struggles to figure out God’s will.  You have to renew your thinking – reboot and restart your thinking patterns – to figure out His will.

Here’s a huge way to renew your mind – retrain it to start giving thanks in all circumstances.  Paul wrote that doing so is the will of God (I Thessalonians 5:18). It is good, acceptable, and perfect.

A Th(i)nkful Journal

In order to give thanks, you have to think thanks in all circumstances.  I know this to be true, but even I struggle to put this into practice.

It has helped me to get into a daily pattern of jotting down my th(i)nkful items in a little notebook before I go to sleep. My son Nicolas and his wife Julia got me started on that practice on my birthday over a year ago and that habit has stuck. It takes a few minutes before I turn the light off, but it helps to push out anxious thoughts and helps me focus on th(i)nkful items.

Example of Being Th(i)nkful

Let me close with a recent and powerful example of being th(i)nkful.  Stephanie Wesco, whose husband was shot and killed in Cameroon on October 30, 2018, just 12 days after they arrived in Cameroon as missionaries, wrote these words:

“Even in the midst of all that has happened these last several days, I see so many ways the Lord has guided, protected, blessed, and strengthened us all. Precious memories with my husband are something I’m so thankful for. The eight sweet children the Lord gave us together here on earth are my greatest treasure in the world now.

I’m so thankful for the military escort we were given out of the danger zone. The kindness of the soldiers to my children… One of the men was giving Emmy chocolate, which is her favorite. 😊 My heart broke as we passed the place where Charles was shot, but I know the Lord was our protection and shield as we left our home. I’m so thankful for that safety in passing through that area.

I’m so so thankful for our co-workers, the Sinclair family. This whole tragedy has welded us together as a group, and I fully believe the Lord still has plans for us, even though right now life feels so uncertain in so many ways. I’m so thankful for everyone who is praying and supporting our family in ways I don’t even know about. The body of Christ has taken in new meaning for me. The Lord keeps reminding me though His word and everyone’s words of encouragement that he hasn’t forsaken us. He is always good, always.

Ngiyabonga

“Thanks” in Zulu is Ngiyabonga

We landed in Africa 11 days ago.  Since that day an incredible whirlwind has taken place.  Breathing new smells, searching for a car and home, meeting new people, eating new food, learning Zulu words, driving stick-shift on the other side of the road, standing in lines at Home Affairs, falling in love with the believers at Grace Toti and nearby Zulu valleys, and getting lost looking at the Indian Ocean all combine to hurl us through this whirlwind of adjustment to our new normal.

Standing in lines at Home AffairsI love it.  I know that is God’s grace.  People are praying for us and we feel it.  Thank you if you are one of them. 🙂 I am surprised at how much I love it here.  The years we spent up in Johannesburg are coming in handy as there are familiar things mixed in with the new.  So th(i)nkful!

Bonga is the root word for thanks.  To say I say thanks, you add in a prefix, “ngiyabonga.” Also if you say we say thanks, you add a different prefix, “siyabonga.” While standing in line at Home Affairs, I met a woman whose name was Nokubonga (mother of thanks).  Now that’s a name and a half. 🙂

Thankfulness is Universal and Uplifting

To be thankful and to express that thankfulness is appropriate all over the world.  It is inspiring to see how expressed gratitude brings smiles to people’s faces whatever cultural background they are from.

God created us to give glory to Him.  There are many ways in which we bring glory to God: through the design of our being – physical and spiritual; through reflecting His image in our actions; and through our words and actions. When we are choosing to think thanks about every circumstance in our lives and expressing that thanks orally or in a written form, we bring glory to God.

Being th(i)nkful isn’t easy all the time.  In these last two weeks there have been times where I have been pressed down with a terrible headache and struggled with tightness in my lungs.  But even through tears, choosing to think thanks and praying hard with thanksgiving (Phil.4:6), gives me a supernatural peace that comes from Him, an inner joy that no one can take away.

Being th(i)nkful is uplifting!

66b66588-3ab9-40f7-99ea-10d7adc62676

My Th(i)nkful List.  What Is Yours?

  • Seeing and hearing the Indian Ocean
  • Monkeys are very visible
  • My husband is so kind and understanding
  • IsiZulu is a pretty cool language
  • People praying for us
  • My brother Erik helped me figure out a way to talk to my Dad and we got to pray together
  • Dr.Mandy helping me with a nebulizer for a breathing treatment
  • Co-workers that love the Lord and love to help out newbies
  • The Gospel works in every culture
  • Hearing Zulu women sing when they work
  • Nick and Julia sending a video of their family singing the Psalm 73:28 chorus I came up with before we left
  • All our kids are on one WhatsApp chat group
  • Pastor Des and Sharon’s warm welcome and strong vision for the future

Ok, the challenge is on.  What is your th(i)nkful list?

“O give thanks unto the Lord; call upon His name: make known His deeds among the people.” Psalm 105:1

 

Th(i)nkful for ABCD

Not All Poverty Is Created Equal

We learned some great lessons last week in “community health evangelism” training (CHE). One principle we learned was that helping the needy in Majority (3rd) World countries can be divided in two categories:

  • One category is called Relief – stopping the bleeding in emergency situations such as after an earthquake, hurricane or tsunami where people are completely helpless and needing gifts of food, water, and healthcare just to survive. Think of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-37.
  • ABCD8The second category is known as Development – helping the needy by working with them to improve their general living conditions, developing their skills, giving them a hand up and not a hand out. Think of Israel leaving part of the harvest for widows like Ruth in Deuteronomy 24:19-22.

This second category is what I want to highlight. A central part of development is refusing to answer every problem with outside money, and refusing to do for people what they can and should do for themselves.

What is ABCD?

In the world of development, ABCD – ABCD4Asset-Based Community Development – is helping a struggling community improve itself by sitting down with residents and inquiring about what they already have.😊 When Moses resisted getting involved with God’s plan, God asked him, “What is that in your hand?” (Exodus 4:2). That’s where we begin. We look at what is, not at what is missing.

“What skills, gifts, abilities, tools, supplies, and time do we already have here in our community?” At first, many reply “nothing,” and you might agree at times.  But as the moments go by, people start to mention things, and in time, you end up with a list.  The CHE team does this in “neighborhood surveys” and then brings people together to discover how their combined skills and abilities can begin to make changes.

Gratitude turns what we have into enough.

ABCD7This approach promotes a philosophy of thankfulness and a “can do” spirit.  In other words, a community looks to its own members to identify what assets are already present around them.

CHE teams share preventive health tips along with moral teaching and gospel truth.  Having a good and meaningful life is not just physical well-being, but also emotional, relational, spiritual, and financial health that only the transforming gospel of Jesus Christ can bring. Even an atheist said so!

How are ABCD and Th(i)nkful similar?

abcd.jpg

By focusing on assets, we search for things that perhaps we had overlooked before that we can think thanks for.  That is just what th(i)nkful is about – looking for things to think thanks about in every situation and expressing that thanks orally or in a written form.

God’s thanksgiving commands are not just for the rich and wealthy, but even for the majority of people in the world who are poor.  And it is humbling, tear-jerking, and convicting to watch someone with nothing discover that they have enough to help someone else.

Emotions are real but they are not reality, and a dose of th(i)nkfulness can turn a pity party into non-stop praise for God’s provision. Th(i)nkfulness focuses on what God has provided and sees His meticulous Providence in keeping us from what is missing.

I ASKED GOD

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve.
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.

I asked for riches, that I might be happy.
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life.
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for, but everything that I hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among all men most richly blessed.

Anonymous Civil War Soldier

 

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

ALMOST ~ AM LOST

On Israel’s Shore – Caesarea Maritima

Herod the Great built Caesarea in about 10 BC.  He did the impossible – conquered an unruly sea and built jetties and an entire port on the Mediterranean Sea, complete with lighthouse, temples, a palace, and a hippodrome for chariot races and gladiator games. This city was home for Rome’s leaders – Pilate, Herod Antipas, Herod Agrippa I and II.

About 30 years after Jesus died, this city was the setting for Acts 26:28 where the imprisoned Apostle Paul gave his defense to King Herod Agrippa II and Festus.  Paul skillfully related his testimony, his story of conversion, and gave a reason for his life’s commitment to spreading the gospel.  In response, Agrippa uttered his famous words, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian!”

The Problem With “Almost”

Our guide for our recent study trip to Israel chose that setting to share his own personal testimony.  As we stood cooling off our feet in the beautiful Mediterranean, he described that as a rebellious young man, he decided he was finished with church and God and was leaving home to live his own life.

As a token gesture, he went to his home church to say “good-bye.”  That evening, the sermon was on Acts 26:28.  The speaker emphasized the irony of the word ALMOST.  If you switch the L and the M in that word, you come up with a related concept ~ AM LOST.  Being almost a believer is the same as being totally lost. How very, very sad.

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The result in our guide’s life was that God’s Spirit used that to break his rebellion and catapult him into seeking an intimate life-giving relationship with the Lord.  Eventually he went into ministry and has been training church leaders for 25 years.

We climbed up a small hill from the beach and walked out on to the very stone pavement where Paul spoke these words. How sobering to realize the ongoing living power coming from the Biblical account that took place right where we stood.

And how amazing to think that Paul’s words to “give thanks always for all things” were written during this imprisonment.  I am th(i)nkful for our brother Paul’s faithful testimony during that long test that God sovereignly allowed in his life. How often we become very impatient with how God has written our story.  We chafe and complain because it is hard for us and we don’t see the reason for the difficulties. Ever spend three years in prison for no good reason and wonder what God is doing?

Th(i)nkful For Grace

One of the outstanding lessons for me is that I am so incredibly thankful for “grace” – unmerited help and assistance from God.  That same grace that helped Paul through all he experienced as he was imprisoned and beaten is also fully available to me.  The grace that helped our guide respond to the challenge of Acts 26:28 is freely presented to all who desire to believe. Th(i)nkful that God is so merciful and faithful, quick to forgive, and slow to wrath.

Irony of the Aqueducts

Herod’s masterpiece on the Mediterranean – like so many other things he built in Israel – is in ruins, barely visible, just toppled rocks that beg for imagination.  The Caesarean aqueductsIMG_5834 that used to bring down fresh water from the foothills of Mt. Carmel are now dried and cracked.

But God’s living water, reflected in the life, words, and ministry of Paul, is still flowing steadily for all who would drink. People like our guide are still brought to life by the words of the living water uttered on that stone platform in Caesarea years ago.  And the flow, growing stronger and stronger these days, is reaching into the spiritual deserts of countries and communities that have never heard. Sola Deo Gloria!

Lives Still Transformed

Paul gave a compelling testimony of the saving and transforming power of Jesus Christ. So did our guide in Israel.  Your story is powerful, and no one can argue with it. Our friend Josh Chapmon is a videographer who has a ministry helping Christians record videos of their testimony simply using a smart phone to upload them to the internet. Check out God’s story in the life of Chris Dew!

 

 

Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to be a Christian.”  And Paul said, “I would to God, that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.”

Acts 26:28-29

What is Th(i)nkful?

Definition

Th(i)nkful: a determined choice to download grace/strength from the Lord to think thanks about every circumstance in my life and to express that thanks orally or in a written form.

So…practically what does that really look like?

30,000 Feet Up

In counseling we are taught a principle to use when helping someone who is, as we say, “lost in Manhattan.”  They’re in a maze of tall troubles; they spin around disoriented, feeling lost and hopeless.  How can we help them?

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It is called getting them “30,000 feet up.”  Imagine yourself pulling them up to 30,000 feet and then looking down at their problem – viewing things, you might say, from God’s viewpoint.  The giants are now small.  You can look down on streets and see the main roads out of the city.

Getting a better and higher perspective on what really matters can be the key that gives hope and helps us cope. What is the big, big picture? We were born, we live, and we will die. What is going to really matter in the long run?  Will it matter 100 years from now?  And for all the darkness in the city of my life, where are the lights?  Where are the signposts?  Who put them there for me, and how can I tell Him “thank you?”

Th(i)nkful Created

I stumbled over the th(i)nkful concept while going through a difficult time in my life.  I knew from scripture that I was to give thanks in every circumstance, but I was hard-put to do just that. As I studied out the etymology of the word thanks, I discovered that it came from the ancient root word tong which meant to think/ feel.  Expressing thanks is based on 1) stopping, 2) reflecting on your circumstances, and 3) choosing a positive thing on which to focus.  Thank comes after think.  Expressing thanks doesn’t just happen naturally, and especially not when times are hard.

So th(i)nkful was created to encourage us all to forge a life-pattern of repeatedly stopping, thinking, choosing the good, and expressing our thankfulness for, and our thankfulness to … the One who is the source of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17).

This life-pattern is being th(i)nkful, first thinking, then choosing the good, then giving thanks.  Expressing the thankful thoughts, either orally or writing them down, enforces the brain neuron pathway. Every time you push yourself to be th(i)nkful you secure that brain pattern a little bit more. You choose to focus on the things you can give thanks for.  You also need to give the gift of your gratitude to the One who deserves it.  We are thankful to, not just thankful for.

Th(i)nkful List:

  • I have a brain that allows me to think
  • Phil. 4:13 promises me strength to obey God when He asks me to give thanks always
  • the blessings that follow gratitude, like peace, contentment
  • discovering joys and pleasure that I take for granted, like when pain goes away
  • th(i)nkful journals that allow me to record my thankful thoughts
  • reading the journals later remind me to continue to think thanks in the present
  • focusing on my blessings, minimizes my difficulties

 

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I choose to focus on the silhouette in this picture.  Daming Lake, Jinan, China

Godliness with Contentment is Great Gain

Contentment

The Battle for Contentment

Contentment is being totally at peace with having nothing more and nothing else.  It is therefore the greatest wealth a person can have.  Contentment is simply wanting only what I already have.  There is no angst; no imagining, no further search.

Have you ever felt totally content?  OK, maybe after a big meal on a soft couch when you are dosing off to sleep. Most internet pictures for contentment have people relaxing in tranquil surroundings. But have you ever chosen, independent of circumstances, to be content?  It seems almost impossible for us as humans.  The relentless stream of advertisements on TV or websites are designed to ensure that we are never content; after all, one week of nationwide contentment could destroy our economy!

We all, it seems, have the “dis-ease of discontent.”  Our hearts long for more comfort and convenience, greater perfection in our things and relationships.  We try to satisfy this internal quest for harmony and heaven by relentlessly striving to achieve it here and now.  So, we never have enough or have it exactly right. We are discontent.

The Source of Contentment is Within

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures, writes that the “godliness with contentment” mentioned in 1 Timothy 6:6 is the best virtue combination a believer can have.  The first is vertical; the second horizontal.  Both come from within. Both are independent of our outward circumstances and physical conditions. Both communicate, “all I need is a deep relationship with God – not much else matters.”  Lloyd-Jones points out that this brings great gain, a phrase not often used in Scripture. Contentment is the greatest wealth.

Contentment and Ambition

But are we to become a blob? Can athletes and scholars and artists achieve great things while being content?  The Scripture is clear that we can have godly ambition.

  • Firstly, we should have an insatiable quest to know, love and serve Him with our whole heart and life (Psalm 27:4. 63:1, Philippians 3:10).  I must never become content in my spiritual life.
  • Secondly, we should push to wholeheartedly do with excellence things that honor God by reflecting His image in us (1 Corinthians 10:31, Colossians 3:23-24).  We must be content with the gifts, appearance, power and possessions He has given us, but then use them all wholeheartedly for His glory.

Ungodly ambition is the drive for fame, validation, power, wealth, possessions and pleasures to fill up a personal void with the stuff that promises happiness and satisfaction … and that stuff will never be enough.  This is why Puritan writers felt that ambition was one of the most deceitful sins.  Many leaders “attempt great things for God” out of unholy ambition.

Being Th(i)nkful Brings Contentment

When I learn the discipline of thinking thanks, contentment oozes slowly into my heart. Gratefulness focuses on what I have, not on what I lack.  It takes away the fuel of discontent; the fire goes out.  Nothing really changes in my life, except for what I am thinking about and expressing.  I choose to be th(i)nkful.

Southern-Africa-Panorama-MapDavid and I are moving back to South Africa in a few months. We will go alone to this land; we will leave family behind.  We plan to study the Zulu language diligently, and then teach the Bible, theology and counseling to emerging Zulu leaders, and help them begin a church-planting movement.

As I am thinking about the changes that lie ahead, there are days when I struggle to think thanks.  I am tempted to think about precious children and grandchildren who will be out of reach.  That is so hard and heavy for me.  But when I think about how God has given me joys in the journey that are undoubtedly His fingerprints of mercy, I am th(i)nkful.  He will help us.  He will measure out grace. I have already started a th(i)nkful list about our move.

Join me in the discipline of thinking thanks so that together we can cultivate contentment, and in the process become more godly.

Godliness with Contentment is of Great Gain ~ I Timothy 6:6