Even in the Cesspool

Not the Cesspool!

It smells so bad! Could a person actually get used to toxic odors and it not bother him anymore? Recently I learned about an imprisoned brother who was given the grace to actually overcome the horrid smells of a cesspool and find reasons to be thankful for it.

Chen Min Lin lived during a time and place in history where it was illegal to talk about his personal conversion and the Bible. This pastor shared his faith … to a fault some would say. He was incarcerated for 18 years for this crime. After many years, he was assigned to the dreaded cesspool duty. He felt that he had been given a death sentence.

How could he possibly serve God in the cesspool of this prison, trudging around in a field of filth? But the stink of this field had one distinct advantage (pun intended). He was alone. He would always be alone, and no one would disturb him. And so, it was there in the most awful place that he found communion with his Creator. He would pray, lift up his hands, sing to the Lord, and commune with Him right there in the cesspool as he worked.

It became a treasured place to walk and talk with the Lord, even while cleaning the cesspool. (Click on his name to watch the short video describing his joy of finding joy even in the cesspool.)

How I View My Challenges

How do we view heavy challenges that come our way? I know how quickly I am tempted to complain. Yesterday I was struggling through sitting in a very hot church service. It was a fiery day in the mid-nineties outside and our church was going through load-shedding with no power. So not even the fan would work. I was listening to David teaching a Bible college course for four hours in the afternoon.

As I sweated and tried to fan myself with a paper, I realized how easy it was for me to get irritated with something as little as heat. What about all the Ukrainian believers who are right now freezing to death and starving, going weeks without bathing? My endurance surely was quite lacking. 😦

Oh, how good it is to view our challenges with God’s eyes.

James gives us a great perspective. Hard times build endurance and fully-outfitted maturity:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4

New Resolve

So whatever my hard thing is presently, thank you, Lord!

These difficulties have a purpose. They are shaping me. God is using the difficulties to create something beautiful in me … if I will allow Him to do that! In some cases, the hard thing ends up being a growth point, or a growth era, in my life. Though I may hate it now, I will look back and see glory in the cesspool … where my gray prison walls were exchanged for a radiant sun and gentle breezes … where a kaleidoscope of watching eyes were exchanged for the freedom of being alone with God.

“For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

2 Corinthians 4:15-18

Help me, Lord God (Simakade in isiZulu), to worship you on the pathways you have chosen for me. You may call me to cesspool duty. You may call me to endure the trauma and unspeakable losses of war. You may call me to a dithering and withering job. You may call me to a disappointing and discouraging marriage. You may call me to something as simple as sweating in a hot African church. But as you choose my path, also choose your largest vial of grace and pour it out on my soul to see Your fingerprints, Your opportunities, Your promises, and Your image being formed in my person.

Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.

C.S. Lewis

Everything…in All Things

Very, Very Close

Jerry Bridges is one of my favorite authors. His classic, Trusting God, devotes the last chapter to ‘Giving Thanks Always.’ I just re-read that this morning as I am going through this book with a young lady that I am mentoring. Here, at the very end of his exhorting us to trust God even when life hurts, he emphasizes the importance of thinking thanks.

“The basis for giving thanks in the difficult circumstances is all we have been learning about God in this book: His sovereignty, wisdom, and love, as they are brought to bear upon all the unexpected and sudden shifts and turns in our lives. In short, it is the firm belief that God is at work in all things – all our circumstances – for our good.”

Jerry Bridges

The words “in everything” from I Thessalonians 5:18 and “in all circumstances” in Romans 8:28 are very, very close in the Greek and even in English. It is precisely because I can trust that God is working all circumstances together for my good – chiseling, sanding, poking, heating, smoothing and varnishing me – to make me like Jesus, that I can give thanks in everything.

Thanksgiving, the Opposite of Pride

When you give thanks, you are admitting that you received something. You needed something, and then you received it … and so you acknowledge the help, you throw the credit to another person. You are confessing that you are not self-sufficient. You have been dependent. You are a debtor.

While many nonbelievers feel and express their thankfulness, the world’s value system struggles with thankfulness, instead emphasizing what we lack, or mythically claiming that our own inner resources brought us success. Thankfulness toward God is especially set at naught because He is not truly a part of their worldview; they are trying to suppress any recollection of Him.

“Although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

Romans 1:21

For those of us who have trusted in Christ alone for our salvation, we are different. Our worldview says that God is close, that He knows and cares, that He sovereignly ordains and orchestrates all our circumstances for our good and His glory. If the trial was no longer developing our good and His glory, it would immediately end. We should feel inwardly compelled to give thanks! Part of the sanctification process started at salvation is to renovate our fleshly tendency of ingratitude into a spirit of gratitude as a fruit of the Spirit working in us.

We humble ourselves before God and cast our anxieties on Him because he cares for us (I Peter 5:6-7). We accept the adversities with His help and give thanks even for “thorns” – the pains, the delays, the heartaches, the frustrations – that come our way. As Thomas Brooks wrote years ago, we should be “mute Christians under the smarting rod,” except for giving the thanks we give for the design in the disaster.

God is Good at Being God

The foundation for how we can think thanks in all circumstances is that we trust a sovereign God. He can handle our trust. He is good at being God. 🙂 Oh, that I would be quick to get to this point.

Always look for the fingerprints. They are all over the place. He is the Master Artist and is taking all the pieces of my life and putting it together for his glory. I can praise Him even when I don’t see the full picture yet. It will be so good.

“The way to cast our anxieties on the Lord is through humbling ourselves under His sovereignty and then trusting Him in His wisdom and love.”

Jerry Bridges

Powerless

Balcony Chat

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

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

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

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

First Thank

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

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

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

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

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

So What Happened?

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

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

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

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

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

 

Allentown Bible Church

Powerless Is Good

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

a blogpost about first thank 1

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

2 Corinthians 12:10

The Power of Reflection

Being Hijacked at Gunpoint

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

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

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

Objective Experience vs. Subjective Experience

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

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

My Own Battle

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

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

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

A Challenge

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

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

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

Th(i)nkful for Death Bringing Life

Sometimes Fire is Necessary

Fire necessaryDid you know sequoias rely on fire to release the seeds from their cones? Those same fires burn off ground debris exposing soil in which seedlings can take root, open forest canopies through which sunlight can reach young seedlings, reduce competition, recycle nutrients into the soil.  Sometimes, fire is necessary.

The largest tree in the world by volume is the General Sherman, a giant sequoia boasting a total of 52,508 cubic feet of wood.  At 2,100 years old, it weighs 2.7 million pounds, is 275 feet tall, and has a 102-foot circumference at the ground. It has branches that are almost 7 feet in diameter.

This incredible creative masterpiece needed fire to give it a start.  Fire is one of our greatest tools; fire is one our most destructive enemies.  Californians are all too familiar with forest fires recently and the destruction that’s left in their paths. It almost feels sacrilegious to find benefits from wildfires.

But don’t miss the point. Too often we are only thankful when things are going well or at least when there are no significant problems.  However, it is profitable to us to ponder that often “fire” is necessary for cleansing, for renewal, for the creation of great masterpieces.

Death May Bring Forth Much Fruit

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  John 12:24fire necessary 5

In a few short weeks we are celebrating the birth of Jesus the Messiah. I am continually amazed by the ironies of His coming. The Creator entering creation; piercing time and space to become pierceable. Immutable character in mutable form. Omnipotence with newborn skin wrapped in a blanket. Mary speaking to the One who spoke the universe into existence, not fully understanding that He was born to die so that we might be reborn and never die.

A week after that silent night, Simeon’s words (Luke 2:35) made it clear – a fire was coming! Truly great novels and plays all have dark chapters; for there to be a triumph, there must be internal or external foes and dark times. And there is nothing so riveting in literature as an innocent, because of love, dying in the place of one who is guilty.

Your Fires

When we experience a “fire” in our lives, we must process the grief with thanksgiving.  It is in this process that revitalization and growth can occur. As we accept God’s sovereignty in our lives and think thanks in whatever circumstance, forestfire-growth.jpegnew fresh growth will slowly happen.

There are purposes for pain and suffering that we may have no idea of.  We cry out to our God that we are so overwhelmed and at the end of our rope. Although the challenge to trust and think thanks seems so beyond what we are capable of doing, that is the way of hope, the way of birth after death.

As time unfolds we may understand more, but only when we are face to face with our Creator will we fully comprehend.

So that the tested genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  I Peter 1:7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Thankful in vs. Thankful for

004853F9-94D8-4CB3-B1D5-D78D2CB97AF8Difference Between In and For

The difference between giving thanks in and giving thanks for is worth pondering.

Recently while discussing this topic with some friends, the question arose on how a person could give thanks for horrific things that had happened to them. It seems totally absurd to give thanks for trauma and abuse.

We rehearsed the verses from I Thessalonians 5:18 and Ephesians 5:20 where we are instructed to give thanks in all circumstances as well as giving thanks always for all things. How do we make sense of giving thanks for all things?

I want to compare the concept of giving thanks in the circumstance compared to giving thanks for the circumstance.

Begin with Giving Thanks IN

“Giving thanks in” is giving thanks for the good things all around your dark reality, points of light in the middle of the storm, though it feels so uncomfortable to do so. Perhaps you can only focus on Scripture’s promise that God will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5b). Maybe you can think thanks that this circumstance is helping you remember that life is a vapor and soon it will be gone. There is a purpose for you right now and in your immediate circumstance – you are to please God (2 Cor.5:9).

We trust in the sovereignty of our God. He has promised to not test us above what we are able. He has promised to never leave nor forsake us. We cry out to our Creator God to hold us and comfort us in our distress. He knows all we have gone through and are going through. It’s hard to trust Him though when my heart is so crushed, but we must. And we must begin to think thanks.

Rise to Giving Thanks FOR

“Giving thanks for” is actually thanking God for the dark thing itself, because by it God achieved a greater good. As time passes and you get a better view of how God is shaping things, you often recognize the great void and terrible loss of gospel opportunity there would have been without the trial.  You would have been happier and busy somewhere else, and God’s profound work would have been undone. That’s when you learn to embrace the trial itself.

But that is deep blue hero stuff.  It took a long journey for Joni Eareckson Tada to come to the place where she gave thanks for her horrific accident that changed her life completely. Joni became a quadriplegic as a result of a diving accident and by it has had the chance to minister to hundreds of thousands around the world. The friend that helped her through the early days of that trial, Steve Estes, said:

“God permits what he hates to accomplish what he loves.”                

871F7942-D49B-4514-957B-F793D354E7AF

“I have learned to kiss the waves that throw me up against the Rock of ages.” Charles Spurgeon

Overcome Evil with Good

CourtroomChoosing to Forgive

Last week, a friend of mine, a precious older godly lady, attended the trial of the man who killed her husband. Four years ago, her beloved’s life was snuffed out by this drunk driver.

Finally, she would have the chance to speak with him face to face.  She had come to peace with God’s sovereign choice to take her husband home when He did. She just wanted to tell the man that she forgave him. At the end of the trial, he was sentenced to 15 years without parole … and she got the opportunity to let him know that he was forgiven.

After prayer meeting, she wanted to tell David and me some things that she was thankful for in the middle of this trial. I just had to relate these to you!

  • She was so very thankful that her husband died instantaneously;
  • She was thankful that he knew the Lord as his personal Savior; he was ready for death and ready to meet the Lord;
  • The morning of his accident, he had forgotten his car keys, so he rang the front doorbell and my friend quickly grabbed the keys on the counter knowing exactly what was going on. She handed him the keys, and while he normally would have grabbed them and hurried off, for some reason, he stopped and gave her a sweet kiss. She didn’t know it was their last one, but later she saw that it was a gift from God.

th(i)nkful – Overcoming Evil with Good

light shining onLife (and the sovereign God behind it) will bring opportunities for us to choose to overcome evil with good, darkness with light. Romans 12:17-21 talks about what to do when we are served evil. Verse 21 says to not be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good.

Joseph told his brothers who sold him into slavery, “you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). When we can see a sovereign God weaving His perfect purposes behind all of the damage others may do to us, we feel compelled to join Him in the good He is accomplishing through it.

One of the ways we can overcome evil with good is to exercise being th(i)nkful.  Just like what my friend was doing during the trial.  The facts of what happened in the accident were hard to hear again, but she saw God’s fingerprints and mentally searched for things to be thankful for.

This is not easy to do.  It is difficult, but it is possible.  Perhaps in the beginning it will only be tiny baby steps of expressing th(i)nkfulness. Little by little, discovering things to think thanks about will surface, and as we express those things, we overcome the darkness with light.

Spiritual Truth in the Eclipse

The solar eclipse coming across the U.S. on August 21, 2017 illustrates this perfectly. Believing scientists tell us (watch the video “Privileged Planet” – at 27 minutes in) that although the sun is 400x larger than the moon, God placed the moon at the perfect distance (400x closer) so that, during the totality when they examine the corona, they can detect the types of gases burning in the sun and learn about solar winds – things only possible in a total eclipse.

The spiritual truth is that when God’s face is eclipsed by the harshness of life, 1) the darkness is temporary and the light will return, and 2) if we study the situation, we will find that there are things about God we can only learn during the darkness of such an eclipse.

  1. “The first thing that you have to do if you’re going to forgive a person is to receive the grace of God.  Until you receive grace from God, and His forgiveness of you, you will not be in a position to forgive somebody else. 
  2. The second thing?  Acknowledge the wrong. Name it, whatever it was.  Name it in the presence of Christ.  Be straightforward with Him. 
  3. Number three, lay down all your rights.  Forgiveness is the unconditional laying down of the self. 
  4. And now, number four? . . .If that person asks forgiveness, forgive. . . if he does not. . .forgive him anyway in a private transaction with God.  Ask for grace to treat that person as if nothing had ever happened. Stand with Christ for him.”

Elisabeth Elliot (after her husband was killed by Auca Indians)

Th(i)nkful in Anxiety

1 Lofoten D

This is a real place. I know it looks magical, but this place exists. It is located in Reine, Norway. The rock pinnacle rises out of the sea and extends high into the sky.  The quaint village nestles around the bottom of the peak. What an idyllic scene among the Lofoten islands on Norway’s west coast.

Joy from a rock

When David, and the kids and I first left for South Africa in 1995, I had composed a little chorus from Ps. 62:2. “He alone is my Rock and my salvation. He is my defense; I shall not greatly be moved.” I sang that over and over again and it comforted my heart in those days of transition and ambiguity. When we got settled into our first home there, a precious gift from the Lord was that, from my kitchen window in the house that our co-workers had selected for us, I could see a huge lone rock on top of a little hill.

IMG_2536The Lord IS our Rock, and He wants us to meditate and give thanks for that.

Beating anxiety

When we feel the lure of anxiety and worry, the Lord has told us how we should process that temptation. In Philippians 4:6-8 He gives us a guideline to follow when those anxious thoughts spin relentlessly in our minds.

  1. Firstly, without any question of confusion, we are NOT to be anxious.
  2. Secondly, we are to pray and pour out our heart to Him in supplication (the action of asking or begging for something earnestly, humbly, and specifically).
  3. Thirdly, that plea is to be surrounded and immersed with thanksgiving. We are to be th(i)nkful in our anxiety test. We are to trust God to be our Rock, and Provider, and Deliverer.

Worry is self-oriented and inward focused.  Love and trust in God is outward focused.  When I dare, through the power of the Spirit, to trust fully that God is in control and rest in His sovereignty, even in the smallest detail, the peace of God will flow within me in a supernatural manner. He promises to keep (guard) my emotions and my mind through Christ Jesus. He continues to urge me to meditate on things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy.

Write it down

Why not write down 5 things right now that you can be th(i)nkful for when tempted with worry!

  1. God takes care of the birds of the field and He promises to take care of me (Matt. 6:26).
  2. God will give me enough strength to reach out to others to do His will for my life and for the advancing of His kingdom.
  3. God IS my Rock (Ps. 18:2). I can trust Him to show me the next step.
  4. God is ultimately going to take me home to Himself, which is really the best thing that could happen to me.
  5. God cares so much for me that He has even counted all the hairs on my head (Matt. 10:30-31).

The Rock stays firm and as my eyes are fixed on Him, His peace, like water fills up my being.

img_1590.jpg

He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just

Deuteronomy 32:4

Th(i)nkful – Producing Grace

A Gratitude Journal

Nick and Julia 1This is a picture of our son, Nicolas, and his beautiful Julia.   They gave me a special present this year for my birthday –  a Daily Gratitude Journal! In this journal there are only blank pages divided by a line in the middle and a space on which to put the date. You could use really any kind of notebook to do the same thing. The idea behind it is to get into a pattern of writing down your th(i)nkful list. At the end of the day you take a moment to reflect on what you were thankful   for that day.

IMG_2253I started doing that after getting this book from Nick and Julia. Some entries are not so full. Some entries can barely fit all that I want to record. But the beautiful thing that I find happening to me is that, as I go through my days, I make mental notes of the things I need to remember to record that evening. This goes for easy days, as well has hard days.

In the Valley of Shadows

Recently, I have been hit with a lot of opportunities for wisdom. So many people I know personally have been ushered into a valley of shadows – getting better acquainted with cancer. I see in my own behavior that, although I know what the truth is and know my responsibility to act in accordance with it, I still can be overwhelmed with sadness and heaviness in my heart. I chide myself for not being stronger. The truth is, when I cannot understand God’s ways, I must hold on to His character. I must simply “hold on to Jesus.” Let me illustrate.

Song of the Orphans

A few years back, David and I had the privilege of interacting with some precious people in Shongwe Mission, South Africa.  This neighborhood was filled with orphan-led households.  In other words, both parents were gone and there were children caring for each other.  One home with 6 children was led by a 12-year-old named Lalif. I remember being struck with such admiration and yet sadness and hopelessness.

IHold on to Jesus learned a gem that afternoon. Our group sang songs for them and in return they wanted to sing for us. They did a much better job. 🙂 One of the songs they sang was “Hold on to Jesus, Hold on, Hold on, Hold on.” I thought to myself that wow, that doctrine was so shallow.  They should have been taught deeper truths.  However, the gem I discovered was that the most important thing to do when going through horrendous difficulties and challenges is to “Hold on to Jesus.”

“Trust in Him at all times, you people, pour out your heart before Him: God is a refuge for us. Selah” (Psalm 62:8).

I just can’t give way to the temptation to begin to doubt the Lord’s goodness and purposes.  Trust.  He is writing a bigger story that I could even imagine.  He asks me to be filled with the Spirit in Eph. 5:18. A description of what that filling looks like comes in verses 19-20.  I am to speak to myself in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.  I am to sing and make melody in my heart to the Lord.  I am to give thanks always for all things to God in the name of Jesus Christ.

“I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord” Isaiah 63:7

When faced with difficulties, these are the things I can recount:

  1. God is God and I am not
  2. This life is a vapor and we are headed to a much better place if we have trusted in Jesus alone for our salvation
  3. God’s promises hold fast
  4. The Lord will never leave, nor forsake
  5. Somehow good will come out of pain and suffering
  6. My job is to respond to hardship with thinking thanks; like for example,  just yesterday a music therapist came into the hospital room of my loved one and played her guitar and sang “Amazing Grace”
  7. God is trustworthy; He can deftly handle all my trust
  8. God will not test me above what I am able and will answer my cry to be Spirit-filled right in the trial
  9. God hears our cries for healing and will do what is best; teaching a myriad of lessons along the way
  10. I can be edified by singing; some good selections are Chris Anderson’s song, “I Run to Christ,” or Getty’s, “Still, My Soul Be Still, or Matthew Decker’s “Fullness of Joy” (Psalm 16)
  11. I can look for God’s fingerprints of grace and kindness along the way; they are there

When I choose to be th(i)nkful – a determined choice to download grace/strength from the Lord to think thanks about every circumstance that comes my way and express that thanks orally or in a written form – grace starts to spring up in my heart. It may just be a little trickle at first, but as my thoughts begin to meditate on all the Lord has done and is doing, it bubbles more and more.  Being thinkful produces grace.