The Th(i)nkful Challenge

Words are Powerful

A teacher was ready to pull her hair out. The class was rowdy and definitely not quietly doing their work. She finally asked everyone to get out a piece of paper, to write down the name of each class member going down the left side, and then to write one nice thing about each person. Later the teacher collected the papers and compiled each person’s characteristics on their own page. The next day, she handed each student his or her compilation of compliments.

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Years later, the teacher got word that one of her students had died in Vietnam and she was asked to attend his funeral. The soldier’s family showed her that piece of paper from junior-high with the other students’ kind remarks about him; he had carried it in his wallet until the day he died.  Other students at the funeral slowly pulled out their pieces of paper as well and said how much it had meant to them.

This is the true touching story of a teacher at a Catholic school in Minnesota, and it shows the power of encouragement.  The student who passed away in Vietnam was Mark Eklund.

Thinkful Challenge

In this blogpost I would like to challenge you. 🙂  I want you to think of a person in your life that God has used to make you more like Himself.  Perhaps God allowed the influence to be from afar. Perhaps it was a relative or a classmate. God uses so many things to shape us and purify us, but there are certain people who have made a particular impact on your life to move you toward Christ.

Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.

Proverbs 27:17

Take some time to think. I am sure that there are many, but at least pick out one. After settling on that one, I encourage you to write a few ways that person has been used by God to help you grow spiritually. It may have been just by example; it may have been key comments at critical moments in the formative years of your life; it may have been through an extended discipleship relationship.

When you’ve completed your list, then thank them. Thank God first of all, and then thank the person. The best way is in person, but if you are far away or lack the courage, perhaps a hand-written letter (like, with stamps), or even an email would be acceptable. Yeah, probably not a text.

My Person

My response to the Thinkful Challenge brings me to Joan.  We met up over 26 years ago when our family joined the mission with which we currently serve. She (being a fellow MK and someone who lived in Africa) and I had no trouble quickly connecting.

God used Joan in my life to make me think. Over the years she has influenced me with her life and with her words.

She challenged me in crafting a LPS (Life Purpose Statement).  She encouraged me when I was discouraged. Over and over, she and her husband Paul poured courage into David and me.a blog on Joan 1

I remember one time when we were speaking together at a ladies seminar on the Big Five. We used the theme of the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt as a platform to talk about the most important things to have in your life.

    • Elephant – Life Purpose
    • Cape Buffalo – Building Redemptive Relationships
    • Lion- Spending time with King Jesus
    • Rhino – Accountability Partner
    • Leopard – Spotting Discipleship Relationships

Joan’s favorite animal is the African Leopard.a blog on Joan 4

I felt so nervous to speak to all these women, but Joan would encourage me to just represent Christ. “Jesus does all the work,” she would say, “you are just a tool.”

Once, when she visited us in Africa, she went with me to a fabric store and helped me think of ways to decorate our home. She made things happen. She powered through obstacles.

A huge blessing from Joan is her love for our MK children. She has a special place in her heart for MK’s. No doubt about it. 🙂 The cool thing is that they love her back. She has earned their love.

One of my favorite memories of Joan is traveling to Israel together. It was the best trip of my life. I loved seeing all these places from the Bible come alive. What a gift to experience that adventure.

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When visiting Abraham’s tomb, Joan, Avril and I had to wear big robes for covering. We felt oddly like nuns in this mosque.

We drank water from the well where Jesus had met with the Samaritan woman (John 4). We walked around the Garden of Gethsemane where our Savior wrestled through those difficult moments before dying for our sins on the cross.

There are so many things I could mention, but in the end, I thank God for how Joan pointed me to Christ. The Lord used her in conforming me to His Son.

Thinkful for Joan:

  • She gave words of affirmation when I felt so weak and incapable
  • She represented how a godly woman should invest her life, in discipleship and mentoring
  • She has cared for her mom during difficult years
  • She loves on missionary kids and makes them feel important
  • She is so funny and has a godly irreverence for religious traditions
  • She does cool, innovative and impulsive stuff
  • She has decorated her home in African style, celebrating her memories living there
  • She is a reader
  • She has taught us as missionary ladies about balance in our lives
  • She is not afraid of rebellious kids and loves sinners, like Jesus

Thanks, God, for the influence of righteousness that Joan has had in my life.

I am th(i)nkful.

a blog on Joan

 

 

 

In Everything

In Everything Give Thanks

He had walked into their town, seen dozens respond to the gospel, and helped them start a church. They held a special place in his heart. But after a few weeks, Paul was forced to flee because of intense Jewish opposition.  Timothy and Silas stayed behind with the largely Gentile church.

Thessaloniki, Greece, was the capital of Roman Macedonia. It lay strategically alongside major trade routes. Today, the city has almost a million people.

Paul traveled there from Philippi and had to secretly slip away to Berea, helping the new believers there find Jesus the Messiah in their Hebrew Scriptures. But then, opposition again kicked in, and Paul moved on.

While staying in Corinth for 18 months, Timothy and Silas caught up with Paul and brought good news about the Thessalonian believers standing strong and true in the middle of persecution.  Paul wrote to them expressing his thankfulness and love for them.  It is at the end of his first letter to the Thessalonians that this verse is placed:

In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
I Thessalonians 5:18

In everything we give thanks.

The “everything” doesn’t deserve the thanks; it’s the sovereign God behind “everything” that deserves the thanks.  He has got this.  He knows what He is doing.  He can be trusted. For the Thessalonians, their present circumstances were hard, and thus, more than any other church, Paul taught them a lot of prophecy – the hope of Jesus’ return. If we struggle to thank God for the present, we can always be thankful for the hope we have that sufferings will be one day be rewarded, and this broken world put right.

New Testament Overview

My husband just completed teaching NT Survey here in South Africa.

NT class

Just for fun, I sat in on his classes and took the exams along with the other learners. I am amazed at how those books are coming alive to me the more I study them. One of my favorites is Colossians. It is similar to Thessalonians in that Paul sent them a personalized letter, but also in that there is a strong emphasis on giving thanks.

Colossae was situated inland from Ephesus.

Paul never made it there, but Epaphras who came to know Paul in Ephesus, went to Colossae and shared the gospel with them. He cared for their spiritual well being. Paul wrote “Colossians” to this group of believers. All four chapters have a verse referencing being thankful. Chapter three has three verses in a row (3:15-17) that give direct commands to be thankful, much like I Thessalonians 5:18.

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

Colossians 3:15-17

It Is God’s Will

“In everything give thanks, come what may,” is a very good motto to live by. But, to up the ante, it is not just a good motto to live by – it is God’s will for us, His directive to us. When Paul wrote that to struggling believers in Thessaloniki, he gave no wiggle room. There was no excuse for certain personalities or ethnic cultures or passing human emotions where expressing thanks just wasn’t done.

There was no escape.  Given that “everything happens all the time,” they were to constantly be looking for things to be thankful for.  God wants us to give thanks in everything.

Thinkful List Today:

  • God has given us grace to power through Covid-19 so far
  • David teaching an overview of the New Testament to hungry learners
  • Food to eat today
  • We have a bed to sleep in
  • Headache has not been bad today
  • That when I have pain and discomfort Lord Shammah is with me
  • This life is a vapor and soon I can be with the Lord
  • I got to clean the balcony today and had hot water and soap to do it
  • I got to have discipleship with a friend
  • If God wants me to give thanks, He will enable me to do it

 

 

 

Art of Thankfulness

Art

Are you artistic? Are you creative?  Some people have a creativity that fashions perfect moments out of ordinary ones, makes old wood and rusty metal into works of beauty. Others of us have to wait for inspiration.

Creativity is intelligence having fun, turning up the color, pushing beyond the bounds of the normal into the imaginative.  A person with an artistic bent can take a basic subject and express it, illustrate it, and expand on it creatively.

Isaiah was an artist. He wrote to people who were pressed down and discouraged and creatively inspired them toward the art and discipline of thankfulness.

Thankful for God’s Creativity

Having lived on three different continents for at least a decade each, I have grown to love people and their cultures. I love their diversity. I love how we are all basically the same, and yet so complicatedly different.  Food, clothing, language, customs, celebrations and values distinguish one culture from another. But all of us want to be accepted and loved. And all of us need redemption.

Our God is amazing. He created each one of us from the same source.  Noah and Mrs. Noah had the genetic DNA to provide for the awesome diversity we see around us. God is the ultimate artist. Just stunning that millions and millions of unique people could come from that one couple.an impartiality post

God Is Impartial

Presently in our world, equality is very fractious topic. Our differences have created inequities, which in turn cause pain. People are mistreated and abused. That trauma leaves scars, and painful responses build even greater pain and separation.

We protest and fight for equal rights.  It is understandable. We want the wrongdoer to be paid back for the wrong he has done. We want there to be justice without partiality.

The problem is that our world is broken. It got messed up. When sin entered, our perfect world was infected with selfishness and a growing desire to worship things instead of God. Selfishness and greed allowed prejudice to take root in our thinking, creating in-groups and out-groups, the haves and the have-nots. The longer our cultures drifted from God, or ran from Him, the more we rejected His truth that there should be no partiality.

an impartiality

Before the cross of Jesus, there is no difference between ethnicities and genders. We all stand guilty and in need of a Savior.

Before the Judgment Throne one day, we will also stand completely equal. No one will have extra favors because of family or wealth or connections.  The only thing that will matter is whether we have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.

The Art of Thankfulness

0828ONLINE_Feat_CMExpressing our gratitude is both an art and art appreciation. An “aesthete” is a person who appreciates art. Most of us cannot handle a day in an art museum; we move through at a good speed stopping only to acknowledge famous things. Aesthetes move slowly, and often, not at all. They are emotionally intelligent people who can just stare at a painting, moving their focus here and there to notice the details and just drink it all in.

Thinking and expressing thankfulness to God is being an aesthete in his art museum.  It stops our tendency to walk on by, and focuses on the details in His painting, the hues and contrasts in color, the choices of light and shadow. Such thankfulness, can both amaze and comfort us. This artist KNOWS what He is doing. He is a Master.

On Which Part of the Painting Do I Focus?

In chapter 12 of his book, Isaiah lays out a solution to the struggles that we face. The people around him were very discouraged. They had suffered from the Assyrians and had gone through great turmoil and hardship, but in the middle of their difficulties, Isaiah points to hope in God their Savior. He directed their eyes to other parts of the vast painting, where darkness will be abruptly ended by a hero emblazoned in a golden glow.

We have a similar hope in God who alone, through the work of Jesus on a cruel cross, can forgive us, save us from the wrath to come, birth new spiritual life in us, send His Spirit to indwell us as a Comforter and Guide, begin His lifelong work of transforming us from the inside out, and give us the hope of a home with Him forever. If we could take a peek at the fate of the unrighteous, we would never stop saying “thank you.”

You are God’s workmanship (Ephesians 2:10), some translators say, “God’s original masterpiece.” Your life, with its light and dark streaks, bright colors and dull grays, is His workmanship.  How do you assess His work?  Are you a critic or an aesthete?

Children stand too close to God’s painting of their lives; they see just the color in front of them. It is not until our waning years that we are often able to get a better perspective, standing back from the painting, to see His design.  Even then, we still look at everything through a smoky glass, which will be taken away when we arrive Home.

an impartiality post 2A culture is a much bigger painting, involving all of the paintings of individual lives and how they flow into each other. One theme in art is that bright colors represent joy.  How wonderful it can be, then, when humans of every color bring their unique palettes to the greater canvas of culture.

True, the darkness of fallen sinfulness covers some canvases, but the image of God can also be seen in every culture. Smallness is a fear of colors not in our palette; largesse is thankfulness for all colors and looking for ways in which those colors, including our own, can be redeemed and used by the Master painter for His glory.

From Thorny Problems to Thankful Proclamation

Our Pastor Des here in Amanzimtoti, South Africa, shared this devotional on this topic.

Our attitude of thankfulness is:

          1. Fueled by remembrance
          2. Founded on trust in a sovereign God
          3. Strengthened through proclamation”

How victorious to move our focus from the thorny problems around us to the solution of God. He has made a way of reconciliation. He has forgiven. He has paid for all the injustices. He gives mercy and freedom to His restored image-bearers, and enables us to show those qualities to others.

We can trust the Righteous Judge to set all things right in His time.  In this world we will have struggles and injustices.  There will be pain and sickness and persecution.  But in Christ we are headed to a better place.

 

an impartiality blogpost

“For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.” Colossians 3:25

Anxieties Dissolve

A Cabin Called Prayer

A Blog on Hiding Places 1

The warm welcoming glow emanated from the windows. It looked so nice in there. Safe. Clean. Warm. A place where I could get a new perspective, His grid, on what I was struggling with. In my mind, I hurried through the cold and dark to the front door and knocked. The door swung open even before I really knocked hard. He invited me to sit down by the fire. Chai tea was already prepared just the way I liked it. 🙂  How did He know?

We engaged. I poured out my anxious thoughts and then as I looked on His face, it was like the confusion and anxieties started to wane.

He reminded me of truth. He said that “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope will not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:3-5).

Anxieties Were Real

My anxieties were real. There were concerns that seemed so heavy and quite serious. I pointed out to Him that this was important indeed. He didn’t chide me, but listened carefully. I realized that as I was delineating my problems He didn’t seem surprised or upset. He calmly gave me a thumbs up. Hope was returning in this secret place.

He encouraged me to remember the gospel of how He had taken all those worries, all my sinful attitudes of unbelief, all my cravings for control on Himself at the cross. He had paid for all of that and He had risen from the dead to satisfy the debt. No longer did I have to shoulder the burden of being the “captain of my own fate,” or serve as God’s advisor by offering Him “better ideas.”

He now is shaping me into a new person. He is creating Jesus in Karin. I can live the rest of my days with His grace and view my challenges through His eyes.

Oh, to dream the dream that God dreams for me.

The anxiety fueling my thoughts was dissipating. When I focused on eternity and that God had everything in control, the dark fingers of anxiety couldn’t keep their grip. It fell off and disappeared like smoke. Anxiety is real, but it isn’t reality.

Yes, I will have lots of trouble here in this earthy life. God has warned me it is coming. He also has exhorted me that I am to run to Him with my anxiety and immerse it in gratitude and He will replace it with supernatural peace (Phil. 4:6-7).

How to Run to the Secret Place

I am talking about a ‘secret place’ in your thoughts, a little cabin called prayer. You can be right in the middle of a huge crowd and still duck into your ‘secret place.’  It is a deliberate choice to abide in our Lord and think His thoughts. It is being renewed in your mind. A Blog on Hiding Places 2

We are happier and healthier when we frequently excuse ourselves from our current rooms of busyness and fretting and talk to Him by the fire in the ‘secret place.’ As you spend time with the Most High, He gently restores a correct view of your present circumstances.

“So it doesn’t matter if you are struggling with pornography, anger, bitterness and resentment, or any number of other sinful habits. You do not find true freedom from those things from simple willpower or knowledge.

It is when you submit your heart to God’s Spirit and walk with Him that you will begin to take off the works of darkness and put on the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 13:14). As you celebrate Him and grow in your wonder of Him, alone and in community with other believers, you will find the old sinful characteristics losing their appeal, and new godly character beginning to take shape.”

A Blog on Hiding Places 3

You are a hiding place for me; You preserve me from trouble; You surround me with shouts of deliverance.  Selah.  Psalm 32:7

Here is a good article to fight anxiety:

Strategies To Fight Well, by  

(Click on Jim Newheiser’s name to get the link to the article)

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!

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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.

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

Are my thoughts lovely?

6. Herod’s Gate – What is Commendable

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

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

7. Damascus Gate – What is Excellent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Check

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

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

 

 

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

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a blog on gate 11

 

 

Spot It?

African Game Drive

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

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

David’s Devotionals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be th(i)nkful! Be the spotter!

a blogpost about spotter

Powerless

Balcony Chat

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

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

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

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

First Thank

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

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

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

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

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

So What Happened?

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

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

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

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

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

 

Allentown Bible Church

Powerless Is Good

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

a blogpost about first thank 1

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

2 Corinthians 12:10

Thinkful Going Viral

Screen Shot 2020-04-06 at 2.21.10 PMGoing Viral

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

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

What Does Viral Mean?

A couple definitions of viral are:

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

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

Imagine Good Viral

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

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

Example of Going Viral

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

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

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

Thinkful Viral

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Infection of Anxiety

Most Popular Bible Verse

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

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

Philippians 4:6

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

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

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

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

Uncertain Worse Than Bad

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

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

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

But our God has not changed.

Relief – Your Importance

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

I have good news.

There is a way out.

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

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

 

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

Matthew 6:24-25

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

Relief – Your Connection

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

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

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

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

Relief – Being Th(i)nkful

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

My Thinkful List for Covid-19:

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

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

Thinking Thanks for HOPE

Coronavirus

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

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

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

In Need of Hope

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

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

The Object of Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Source of Hope

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

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

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

Th(i)nkful for Hope

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

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