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.

a blog on Gates 4

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

Are my thoughts lovely?

6. Herod’s Gate – What is Commendable

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

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

7. Damascus Gate – What is Excellent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Check

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

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

 

 

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

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a blog on gate 11

 

 

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

Thankful and Anxious?

Can You Be Thankful and Anxious?

No!

They don’t go together. You probably already knew that, but I wanted to highlight it for you. 🙂

Research has shown that gratitude cannot co-exist with fear. It turns out that gratitude and compassion can be powerful natural remedies to anxiety.

Jennifer Miller

In Zulu, we would say that they chase each other. Ziyaxosha. adorable picture of cat being chasedThink of a dog chasing a cat. The cat has no desire to stay put if a huge German Shepard is charging its way.

What a great mental image for us to ponder. If you are consciously pursuing a brain neural pathway of thinking thanks, a natural result is that anxious thoughts move on quickly.

Chasing Anxiety

Philippians 4:6 strongly encourages us to not be anxious about anything.  Instead we are to pour our hearts out to the Lord with thankfulness. That is our part. But then our living and listening God responds.

The Lord rewards us by infusing our minds with a peace that “surpasses all understanding” – literally, a peace that stands out, rises above, and is better than normal human comprehension, thinking, feeling, or reason.  And that peace puts a shield around our hearts (emotions) and minds (ponderings).

I would call that a pretty good deal for us!  Just remember that, at times, God’s peace is so beyond understanding that others will think that we are in denial or blocking things out or moving into abnormal psychology.  But we’re not.  We’re just being resolutely thankful to a God who, in His meticulous providence, ordered things as they are for me right now.

Turning Knowledge Into a Skill

So if I am convinced that it would be good for me to work on becoming thinkful, how do I develop that skill?  You have to retrain your brain through repetition – we do this with anxiety, so we can also do it with thankfulness.

Here’s a good idea from Tanya J. Peterson:

Play a Gratitude Game to Help Anxiety

True gratitude is about more than saying thanks. A grateful mindset is developed purposefully and with practice. By playing a gratitude game, you begin to shift your focus away from anxiety and onto other, more positive, aspects of your life.

The game is an ongoing scavenger hunt. You will need:

  • The Scavenger Hunt List below (print it or copy them down);
  • Something to hold one challenge on each page 112a(like a journal or a ring with index cards).

The Scavenger Hunt List contains challenges – positive things, people, situations, and concepts to purposefully seek out and write down what you’re thankful for. Take the list and write one challenge on each page or card, and you’re ready to begin.

Now, look for at least one thing every day. Approach it playfully. When you look for things to be thankful for, your thoughts begin to drift away from anxieties.

Your Gratitude Scavenger Hunt List:

  • Unexpected down time (What did you do?)
  • Someone who makes you laugh
  • Spending time with a friend
  • Something that went well today
  • A chance to do something nice for someone else
  • A personal trait
  • Someone who is a positive part of your life
  • A cherished photo
  • A talent you have
  • Writing a letter of gratitude to someone
  • Stopping and smelling the roses
  • A chance to do something nice for yourself
  • Time spent outdoors
  • An opportunity to make someone feel heard
  • Something that brought a smile to your face today
  • A fond memory
  • An evening spent with friends/family with no electronics
  • Something that someone did for you
  • Your ability to perform a random act of kindness
  • A teacher who inspired you
  • A kind comment someone said to you
  • Someone who listened to you
  • Hearing someone laugh
  • Laughing

The shift of perspective that comes with gratitude helps anxiety because it changes where you look and how you think. It’s a way of beating anxiety at its own game.

I would encourage you to get a journal of any size or shape and just start recording things that you are thinkful for. Let this simple game be a jumpstart to get into the habit of at least recording one thing a day.

In time you may “up your game” and record five things a day. As you craft this neural pathway in your brain, you may in time even be able to see things to think thanks about in hard things, but let’s leave that for now. 🙂

Logo

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.

4 L’s

What Is Your Biggest Sin-problem?

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

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

4 L’s

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

Here are the 4 L’s:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winning?

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

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

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LOCATE  ~ LINK ~ LINGER ~ LIEU 

Fight Back With Thankfulness

Two Secrets

I am going to tell you two secrets.

The Paradox Principle

The first secret is that growing in Christ is built on paradoxes. Things that seem absurd or contradictory prove to be true and right. That is hard for us to really understand. We have to adjust and make new goals and expectations based on those paradoxes.blog on replacement prinicple 1

  • We died with Christ and are alive in Christ
  • The more we die daily, the more alive we are
  • The way up is the way down; and the way down is the way up
  • To save one’s life you must lose it
  • The more we give away, the more we gain
  • We are strongest when we are weak
  • Though poor, we can make others rich
  • We are most sinless when conscious of sin
  • We are wisest when we accept that we know little
  • The more we serve others, the more joy we receive ourselves
  • The more we sit quietly at His feet, the more work we get done for the Master

Notice the paradoxes in 2 Corinthians 6:9-10: as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed;  as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”

To overcome the most difficult trials of life, we begin, not by fighting them but by receiving them as from a loving Creator, being thankful in them, and eventually being thankful for them. It is counter-intuitive. A paradox.

The Replacement Principle

Screen Shot 2019-03-07 at 8.02.01 PM

The second secret is the concept of replacement. When we grow in Christ, we desire to be free from sin and the things that easily capture us. A secret to overcoming sin, is given to us in Ephesians 5:4.  Let me illustrate it first.

Don’t you love ‘Before and After‘ pictures? I do.  I love to see messy, dirty things cleaned up and useful.  It is super-inspiring.

But emptying out an overwhelming mess of useless papers, wrappers, and long-expired milk cartons is only half the job. Nature abhors a vacuum; we don’t live in empty rooms.  The empty room needs to be filled with profitable things, with a place for everything and everything in its place.

Even Jesus talked about a house swept clean of a demon, but that demon returned and finding the house empty (not occupied) brought with it seven more.  The end of the story for that person was worse than the beginning.  The room had not been properly filled and was vulnerable to spiritual squatters.

The Weapon of Thankfulness

Replacement is true in human behavior. You don’t just stop doing something; you must replace it.  When you focus on a thing, you give it power, so if you just repeat over and over, “I will not steal, I will not steal,” your mind will be filled with the topic of stealing.  Not good.  For a thief to stop being a thief, he has to start working and then focus on the superlative joy of giving to others in need (Ephesians 4:28). The stealing is replaced with compassion; taking is replaced by giving; evil is overcome with good.

Ephesians 5:1-4 says: Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.”

a blog post on replacementThis passage hits us with a surprise. Paul exhorts us to fight sexual immorality, impurity, covetousness, filthiness, foolish talk and crude jokes … with thankfulness. Paul didn’t simply shout “stop it,” like Bob Newhardt. He said to replace the sinful behavior with thanksgiving.  We fight back against sin with thanksgiving!

As we actively think thanks and express those thoughts to God and others, we take back ground that has been formerly occupied with sinful thoughts. Being thankful could be viewed as an antidote to sin. We have a weapon in being th(i)nkful.

Summing Up

So did you get the two secrets?  They actually work together.

  1. We overcome trials by receiving them from God with thankfulness.
  2. We overcome sins by replacing them with thankfulness.

How could you start down this road today?  What about having 4-5 blog on opposites 2things written out in an area easily visible like on your refrigerator and when that temptation comes, read those 4-5 things out loud and thank God that He is God, and you are not, and He is trustworthy and will measure out grace and strength to do His will.

“Practically every sin we commit is a result of a lack of thankfulness.”  Heath Lambert

 

Be Aware of Flawed Thinking

The Wrong Order

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

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

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

    Be Aware! 

Gracious Gratitude vs Natural Gratitude

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

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

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

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

The Right Order

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

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

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

John MacArthur

 

 

Th(i)nkful for Normal

The Mistake of Ignoring “Normal”

normal walking

Last evening David and I were going for a walk to get our steps in and stretch our legs.  As we briskly moved along, it hit me what a lame person would give to be doing what we were doing. Just walking.

Movements, abilities, and the painless comfort that I don’t even think about would mean so much to another person.  My whole life is full of seeing, doing, touching, tasting, smelling and hearing things that I don’t fully value or appreciate.  Getting into the habit of thinking thanks turns “normal” into a celebration.

Different Makes Me Thankful for Normal

When I lose the ability to do something, I become acutely aware of how much I miss it.  And on the other hand, when I regain a lost ability, or when the pain finally goes away, I am so very thankful.  Getting lost in a city or travelling for a long time in the third world makes me so glad for the normal of home.

When we spend time with our dear friends who are battling cancer, struggling with an ongoing disability, living with disease, or coping with advancing age, we resist feeling guilty that “the lines have fallen to us in pleasant places,” and we become so very thankful for our “normal” life, which is actually an amazing gift of grace on this curse-ravaged earth.

When Different Becomes Normal

But as many of you know, our “normal” can change drastically in a short time to something very different than we ever expected.  Sometimes we learn that this detour is actually our new main road.  We then have the opportunity to discover things to be thankful for in that new normal.  And if the human outlook seems bleak, we who believe in Jesus have a final and ultimate normal to look forward to – standing face to face with our Redeemer, free from pain, full of the love, joy, and shalom that our Creator initially designed to be our “normal.”  What hope!

Being Th(i)nkful for “Normal”

You can turn “normal” into thankfulness.  How?  Get out a piece of paper.man writing on a piece of paper

Write down 10 wonderful things about your “normal” right now? Which of the five senses do you enjoy? What pains don’t you have? What police station, court, morgue, hospital, or funeral homes haven’t you visited lately? What extreme weather conditions are you enduring right where you’re sitting reading this blog post?  How much gunfire and shelling have been happening outside your window? How much food is in your refrigerator and pantry?

Have you ever been at a prayer meeting where the leader asks for praises to begin the service?  Often it gets all quiet.  How neat it would be to have someone say: “I am so thankful that I could hear you make that request.” 🙂 I think of what it must be like for a born deaf person to hear for the first time.  I have inserted this video of a little deaf boy hearing his father’s voice for the first time.  When his eyes show that he is aware of something new, something different, it is like he enters Narnia ~ a whole new world. If you have already been walking around in the Narnia of hearing, you sure have a lot to think thanks about.

Th(i)nkful people spot opportunities to give thanks in the minutia – for seeing rainbows in soap bubbles, hearing a baby’s laugh, smelling freshly mown grass, and touching a rabbit’s ears. A thinkful person imagines what would happen if all of this mundane “normal” stuff was taken away … and expresses that thanks in verbal or written form.

So when I am tempted to complain about doing my normal responsibilities, like shopping, normal 1let me instead be th(i)nkful for my car, for my ability to drive to the shop, push a cart, have the funds, make decisions from often hundreds of choices … and so on. As the familiar meme says, “what if we had tomorrow only what we thanked God for today?”

 

Getting into the habit of thinking thanks turns “normal” into a celebration.

 

Th(i)nkful and Take 5

Even a Child Can Do It

Take 5 3

Our son Nick and his family seem like a perfect family.  They look like they must always be kind to each other; their children are probably good and kind and share all the time.

Well, if you are human, you realize that is not the case.  They struggle like every family struggles.  There is always an ongoing fight to do what is right.

A while back one of their children developed a real rage problem.  I am the Yaya (what my grandchildren call me), and on one visit even I saw that this was a real difficult puzzle.  Nick and Julia asked us to pray for them to have wisdom and discernment, and so we did earnestly. I am sharing about this with their permission and with the hope that their story could help others.

One particular evening the anger again came to a head.  Take 5 1Nick and Julia had been reading different things to try and find some answers, and they had come up with a plan.  As Nick started to talk to his child he laid down some rules that the child needed to follow when he began to feel great anger.  The idea was to help him get control of these overwhelming feelings he was experiencing.  They called it “Take 5.”

Take 5

  1. Take deep breaths
  2. Count from 1 to 10, and then count backward from 10 to 1
  3. Say one thing that you are thankful for
  4. Practice smiling even if you don’t feel like it
  5. Pray to God for help

The first two cause a person to break from the aggravating situation, slow things down, and let off some steam.  But Nick and Julia chose being th(i)nkful as the exercise that tends to “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).  Forcing yourself into a thought-search for positive things tends to eat the stuffings out of anger.

Take 5 has helped tremendously!  Not only has it helped their child control his anger outbursts much better, but also the parents, and grandparents (!) have benefited from this exercise.  It is simple enough for a young child to implement, but effective enough for anyone, young or old. Hearing this little guy pray to God for help is so inspiring. We, too, can pray to God for help and He hears and answers us.

After a season of their child experiencing victory, Nick and Julia happened upon a candy bar that was called Take 5.  🙂  Take5One evening their little guy was allowed to stay up after the others had gone to bed, and just Daddy, Mommy, and the little victor each got to enjoy a Take 5 bar. Hearing about this made my heart smile.

You Choose Th(i)nkfulness

Just like a little child seeking to get control over his or her emotions and choosing one thing that they are thankful for, we as adults can combat both the flurry and fury of negative emotions by choosing to be thankful. It requires a choice.

So, I shared the Take 5 concept with a friend recently and within a day she texted me that she had put it to use. At the end she commented, “Take 5 is not just for 4-year-olds!”

Thanks requires choice.  

Th(i)nkful Repels Grumpy

Natural Forces

Don’t you love how fast little round wheels can make you go on a skateboard?

There is another natural force that also interests me.  When you put two magnets together, one side attracts and one repels.  That is just the way it is.  I love being able to take advantage of something that just is because God put it into nature.

One of the advantages of being th(i)nkful is that it naturally repels complaining.  When grumpy meets th(i)nkful, they repel each other.  repelling 3In other words they are not good bedfellows. One has to leave.

When you choose to think thanks about every circumstance in your life, whether those circumstances are positive, neutral, or negative, you are creating a natural repellent to ingratitude and complaining.

When our kids were little, I would teach them the ABC’s of Scripture memory.  We had a verse for every letter of the alphabet.  I can still quote those verses as we drilled them often into our minds.  RepellingThe ‘D’ verse was “Do all things without murmuring and disputings.” (Phil. 2:14).

Complaining and murmuring seemed to come very easily to young children, and well, for that matter, to not so young children. In fact, even as adults, most of our problems seem to be rich people problems. “I lost my iPad, or our dryer just died, or we muddied our really good track shoes, or I didn’t get to the sale on time.” We are blessed to even having such problems.

Choosing to think thanks about whatever it was that initiated the complaining had a way of expelling the ingratitude.

Choose to be Thankful

Really, it is not that hard.  Just choose to be thankful! Repelling 1You refuse to think the grumpy thoughts of complaining and instead exercise your will to think thanks about whatever is in front of you.

The beautiful natural thing that happens is that you begin to repel the negative force of murmuring and you experience grace to embrace prickly things that God has ordained in your life to make you more like His Son.

My Own Choice

I am writing this to stimulate you to think thanks, but I’ll let you in on a secret.  I need to be reminded of these principles myself.  David and I have had the unique privilege of doing extensive traveling this past year and it is not over yet.  Our journeys have taken us from New Zealand to China; Seattle to Philadelphia; Kansas to Wisconsin.  Later this year we are moving to Amanzimtoti, South Africa.  Yes, it is amazing.  I really do love it.  BUT…it is exhausting and I struggle to choose gratitude at times.

So, let me make a th(i)nkful list in regards to travel:

  1. We get to experience and learn so many new things
  2. Our own view of life is challenged when we observe how others live
  3. Seeing how big the world is makes us realize how big our God is
  4. We get to taste different foods
  5. Connection with the Body of Christ all over the world is extremely encouraging
  6. We get a vast amount of exposure to illustrate lessons of life
  7. We may be a connection point for other people
  8. God gives us enough strength to do His will

So here’s to future trips coming up! I choose to think thanks and get on my roller blade.  David, I am right behind you! 🙂

Repelling 2

Simple Travel Tips

There are tricks you can put into use that ease the difficulties.

  • Plan out a clothes package that mix and matches
  • Drink lots of water to help with air travel
  • Perhaps take an aspirin the day before air-travel to thin your blood
  • When flying, get up and move from time to time to avoid bloodclots
  • Have a checklist to go over so you don’t forget important things like charging cords, brush or comb, makeup, toothbrush and toothpaste, inflatable neck pillow, headphones, reading material
  • Have a toiletry bag with things just for travel if possible
  • Keep thank you cards in your suitcase

 

Th(i)nkful Exercises

Happy Thanksgiving from the US!

Although for me the idea of cultivating thinking thanks is not just limited to a “Thanksgiving” holiday, I am still so grateful that there is a focus on gratitude this week!  In order to celebrate that, I have compiled some cool examples of how to implement being th(i)nkful.

Examples of Being Th(i)nkful

th(i)nkful exercisesTHE DAILY EXCHANGE. Every day Elisa and Nicole text back and forth things they are #thinkful for.  They have developed a pattern to spur each other on to look for things that they are thinking thanks about that day.  Both of these ladies live in a climate where a long winter is approaching and it becomes harder to feel thankful and more necessary to think thanks.  I welled up with tears to read that they were doing this. How cool! Having an accountability partner to keep you on track helps incredibly.

THE ICEBREAKER. Last Tuesday evening I was speaking to a ladies’ group about being th(i)nkful and at the end of our time together, the leader suggested that we play an icebreaker game.

Everyone got a 3×5 piece of paper and we wrote down one thing that we were thankful for.  It could be anything: a breeze in the air, beauty of nature, clean white sheets, laughter. We then folded the papers in half and placed them in a basket. When all the papers were completed, Allyson, the leader, opened and read each paper.  She did this two times.  The game consisted of trying to figure out who wrote each one of the papers. The first person made a guess. If she was wrong, the next person got to guess, moving clockwise around the room. When a person guessed correctly, the person, whose thankful item had been discovered, moved to sit by the one who guessed correctly. They now formed a team and were given a bonus turn. The game continued in this manner until all the peoples’ thankful items were revealed. If a person guessed someone’s item correctly, and that person was part of a team, the whole team moved by the one who guessed correctly.

 

IMG_3576TH(I)NKFUL JOURNAL. My friend Marni sent me this picture. She had been given a small journal.  It was to inspire one to write down one thing every day that your were th(i)nkful for. Our brains develop neural pathways by doing something over and over again.  At first it feels like you are carving a difficult path through the woods, but as you do it over and over, it starts to happen automatically.

 

TH(I)NKFUL JAR. Another idea is to have a big jar with little papers and pens nearby. As you or your family go through the week, each person writes down something or someone that they are th(i)nkful for. At a time where all are present, somebody opens the jar and reads all the papers. On a bigger scale this could even be a year long project.

 

AT THANKSGIVING. If you are having a Thanksgiving dinner this week, maybe around the table each person could give one thing they are thinking thanks about this year.

 

TH(I)NKFUL VOLLEY. “th(i)nkful volley” is passing an imaginary “ball” back and forth where the person receiving the ball gives one thing they are thinking thanks about. David and I often will engage in th(i)nkful volley while driving on a trip. It has helped us get a better perspective on how we should view life!th(i)nkful volley 1

 

TH(I)NKFUL EDIFICATION. Warning! Powerful!  The “th(i)nkful list.” In a group of people, give each person several strips of paper correlating with the number of other people in the group. Write one person’s name on each of the papers.  Then write down one thing you are thankful for about that person. Collect the papers and then have a narrator group each person’s strips of papers.  Then, have the narrator read all the things people were thankful for about each person.  This has the potential to be life-changingly powerful. 🙂