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.


Th(i)nkful Looking Back


“Pilgrim’s Rest” is a common house with an uncommon use: it gives missionaries a place to rest as they prepare to leave Atlanta for foreign fields, and it is the initial landing spot for missionaries as they reenter America for the first time in several years. Although it blends in with homes in the subdivision, this house sleeps 16 people!

David and I work with a mission north of Atlanta called Biblical Ministries Worldwide (BMW), which designed and built Pilgrim’s Rest.  Our missionaries can stay there for free.  Imagine the languages and stories it has heard!  Imagine the intense thoughts and emotions of those who have only tried to sleep there as they’re on the cliff of cultural transition!  There are many scenes in those rooms that only the Lord knows about.

On Thursday a number of us did a deep cleaning of the upstairs in preparation for our Candidate School starting next week.  As I was cleaning the front bedroom (the window with black shutters in the picture), vacuuming behind the bed and dusting the blinds, my mind went back 8 years to when David and I slept in that room.

It was a difficult time for me.  Our daughter Stephanie had just married, and David and I were leaving shortly for Africa without any of our kids. Two were married and two were working in the States for the summer to save for college bills. I realize now that my challenges were not that difficult. Many have gone through much worse scenarios than what I was facing. Nevertheless, I felt like I was going through a crisis. I remember sitting on the floor in that room and crying so hard that my whole body was shaking, telling David that I didn’t think I could go on.

You have been uniquely crafted for a reason and purpose. Hang on through the surgery of the soul and call out to God for comfort and peace.

When you face trying times, it is good to have a list of truths tucked away in your Bible to meditate on.  I challenge you to formulate such a list.  Just to get you started, here are some ideas:  God is God, and I am not.  I have been uniquely crafted for a reason and a purpose. I must hang on to God’s trustworthy and loving character as He does surgery on my soul to remove things that would hinder my effectiveness.  God does not waste pain.  He is developing something in me.  His Son went through pain for a greater good.  He is trustworthy.  He can be fully leaned on, although it hurts.

The Lord did not leave me on that floor shaking and crying, He comforted me and poured courage into me to get up and move on.  I found enough grace to take the next step. He was and is faithful to provide enough strength to fulfill His will for me.

The beds at Pilgrim’s Rest have been slept in thousands of times each year. Most fascinating is when there is an interchange of missionaries from different continents that can connect and converse over a meal only to leave the next day and never see each other again.

It felt good, and in a way sacred, to work hard in cleaning that room.  It is a special place for uniquely called people in a crucial time of transition.  May the next person who sleeps in that bed be comforted that God is sovereign in all He does.  And that He remembers. This life is a vapor and soon we will be with Him.

Th(i)nkful About The Cross

The Cross

The longer I live and grow in understanding of things around me, the more I realize that I have only scratched the surface of what happened at the cross.  It is the climax of all of human history.  It brings freedom from guilt and the wrenching problem of sins for which we could not pay.  It infuses hope to all who trust in what Christ did to reconcile us to God.  It is the means of saving little children who have only a simple understanding, and yet it continually baffles theologians and philosophers.

The cross exemplifies how humans should live and die in pursuit of doing the Father’s will.  The cross is the means by which Christians come to life, and yet the cross is what Jesus demanded we take up daily in dying to self.  One day, the entire physical earth will be healed because of what happened on that hill outside Jerusalem.

Thinking about the cross creates such varied responses from mankind.  Some scorn it as immoral.  Some are filled with disbelief that anything of supernatural value happened there.  Some believe that it indeed happened, but will not submit to any claim that Jesus is God or that we are somehow answerable to Him. Some see it as symbol of sincere devotion to God, and that by somehow relishing that symbol on a wall or around the neck, they will somehow gain a better relationship with the Almighty.

Some begin to get the full realization that we are completely indebted to the Father and the Son for what happened on that cross.  Without the gospel of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, there is no hope for salvation for judgment, healing, growth, or a future with Him in heaven.

Grasping fully what Christ did on the cross for me that day will cause my heart to always, and forever, be filled with thinkfulness. Because of Jesus, I can live the moments I have left in this life, full of thinking thanks that I was written into the story of humankind and of the redeemed.

What an incredibly awesome story God is writing! From eternity past to eternity future, everything points to the cross.  Thank you, God, for Who You are and that You have provided a way for us to return to You!  You made the story simple enough for a child to understand, but embedded in its simplicity is a complexity that I can never hope to really grasp.


Hope in Knysna

On the southern tip of Africa there lies a beautiful bowl-shaped lagoon with the city of Knysna nestled around it.  It is one of the top dream holiday destinations for the country of South Africa.  On June 7, 2017, a fire began to sweep throughout the beautiful dry winter landscape around Knysna. A family died. Thousands of people were evacuated and displaced.  Homes and schools were burned to the ground. People lost all their earthly belongings and even livelihoods.  Life will never be quite the same for those that went through this tragedy. Knysna, South Africa, has gone through a horrendous ordeal.

How can a person begin to think thanks in these kind of circumstances?

At first you feel so numb.  You have to stop the bleeding. People need food and water. Everything seems to take forever.  Things that seemed so important before, somehow have lost their urgency. What really matters?

Coming face to face with tragedies is often the source of people turning their backs on the Lord.  How could a loving God allow it?

Our friends, Dave and Julie Rudolph, are missionaries in Knysna and are forging their way through this devastating time and looking for ways to share the love of Christ in the midst of trial. Here is an update.

Dave Rudolph’s Update from Knysna

You may have your own fire, a hard thing that you have gone through that is difficult to process. It seems impossible to find any sense in it all.  I know I have experienced hard things like that.  I wrote down these 10 things following a talk on why God allows sufferings.  They have been immensely helpful for me personally.  Why does God allow evil and suffering?

  1. God is justly allowing sin’s curse on the earth to take its natural course; the earth is broken and longing for redemption. Romans 8:22
  2. God is jolting me to get me really searching for Him in prayer and in the Bible. Jeremiah 29:13-14.
  3. God is refining me, freeing me from some vice and building virtue in me (the greater good). I Pet. 4:3-4; Job 23
  4. God is equipping me to be a compassionate comfort and strength to others. 2 Cor. 1:4.
  5. God is equipping me for greater service; changing the scope of my influence.
  6. God is freeing me from trust/dependence on things, teaching me that He is the only thing I hold on to.
  7. God is opening a door for me to share my faith and show God’s love.
  8. God wants me to long for a better place. 2 Cor. 4:16-18.
  9. God is privileging us to share in His suffering – reward comes with this.
  10. God is demonstrating that He can sustain and keep His children faithful.

Searching for the things for which we can be th(i)nkful sometimes feels almost irreverent of the incredible pain that we are experiencing.  Formulating thanks through our tears is an act of worship to the Sovereign One that He does not take lightly.  He knows. He sees.  He rewards our effort to download His grace in order to gain His perspective in every circumstance.

purposefully thinking thanks in the midst of tragedy is like beginning to climb a rope out of the hole of despair that you find yourself in.

Th(i)nkful Lessons In Knysna


Elephants used to roam freely in the forests around Knysna, South Africa.  Today those magical creatures of old have forged their place in legend and literature, as is the case in J.R.R. Tolkien’s oliphants in Lord of the Rings.  Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein, S.A. in 1892, and spent the first three years of his life in South Africa. Olifants is the Afrikaans word for elephant.

Last Saturday I had the privilege of visiting one of the elephant sanctuaries around Knysna, S.A. and took this picture.  They are gentle beasts mostly, as long as food is part of the deal. Touching the tough and scratchy hide is fascinating.  Their massive ears are filled with blood vessels used as a cooling mechanism when they flap. Elephants spend most of their time eating and very little time sleeping, especially if they are in the wild. Elephants are always on the move.

The following day we heard a minister speak on James 1:1-12. He connected count it all joy with verse 5’s asking for wisdom in a way that I had not seen before.  We are to think thanks, or count it all joy, in whatever trial we are in.  When we are being tested, we are to be grateful. Why? Because of verse 3. James says that because we know that the test is for our good, we can engage being th(i)nkful.

Our faith is exposed in trials. If we have compartmentalized our lives, putting our faith in one department, and our everyday living in another, it will be painful to connect the two when difficulties come.  However, if we have synced the two, our faith in that God is using this situation in my life for good, will enable us to respond in trusting joy and to be thankful.

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask God in faith, and it will be given him.  The quest for wisdom is in regard to how we can count it all joy in difficult times. We build our thoughts on the sure foundation that God is in control, trusting in His wisdom and incredible love for us, and then count it all joy. We think thanks.

Just like that elephant who is always on the go looking for food, I should always be on the move looking for what I can think thanks about in my present situation, whether easy or not.  My brain pattern of th(i)nkfulness is increased in strength every time it is exercised.


Today I am th(i)nkful for:

  • having a safe trip to Africa and back
  • God writing the story of my life every moment in small ways and big
  • the couples traveling with us being so open and teachable
  • Ros and Rob Warren’s Pepperwood Lodge Bed & Breakfast that soothes the soul
  • Grapetizers that are still delicious
  • the Gospel message changing lives

credit to Billy Gotcher, speaking at Lagoonside Baptist, Knysna, S.A. May 28, 2017

Th(i)nkful In The Storm

Sarah's tree storySince the Bible is the most published piece of literature in human history, and because I personally trust in it explicitly, I decided to do a thorough biblical study of the word “thanks” in all its various forms (such as thank, thankfulness, thanksgiving, thankworthy).

Let me summarize what I found and then connect it with the event in this picture that took place just last week.

Out of the 135 references I found in the Strong’s Concordance, 67 came from the Old Testament, and 68 from the New Testament. Let’s hit a few highpoints.

The references in the OT begin with the Lord’s thanksgiving offerings which were voluntary and were to express thankfulness to God in Lev. 7:11-21. God designed giving thanks as an essential part of the way His chosen people should worship Him.  As the years and the prophets went by, we can also see that whenever there was a revival, a time of cleansing and restoration in Israel, thanksgiving was an integral part.

The Psalms have the most references to thanks of any book in the Bible – no surprise there. When the psalmist was in distress, discouraged, or overwhelmed, he often poured out his heart to God.  As he began truth-thinking about God’s character and promises, his perspective changed and his thoughts were filled with thanksgiving toward God.

Moving to the NT, Colossians has a verse dealing with thanks in every chapter.  In fact, chapter 3 has three verses in a row (3:15-17), where three Greek words are used that are each connected to being thankful.  Check it out.

The strongest verses, Ephesians 5:20 and I Thessalonians 5:18, actually command believers to give thanks in all circumstances.

  • “Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20).
  • “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (I Thess. 5:18).

This is just a small sampling of all the verses I found, but such a strong foundation for pursuing being th(i)nkful.  I am cultivating thinking thanks not just for His glory, but also because my Creator has designed this thinking pattern for my benefit.  He wants me to look for the things that I can be thankful for in every situation that comes my way.

There will be times that are heart-wrenching and stretching in my life. I am to think thanks right then, even through the tears. There will be times when I feel like dancing because I am so happy.  I am to think thanks then, but that will be easy.  However, most of life will be in between these extremes, the vast stretches of mundane, everyday life, but even then, all the time, when I wake, and when I go to sleep, I am to think thanks.

I want to end this post with a story from a former student named Sarah.  She and her husband Austin are very precious to David and me. She had an eventful birthday on May 4th, a stormy day just last week.  This is how she described what happened after she left work that day:

I feel that I need to proclaim God’s grace and goodness. After not being able to leave due to trees down on the road, I came back to the house. I had just walked into the living room when we heard cracking and a massive crash. Walked outside to see this [picture above] where I had been only moments earlier. We don’t always know why God spares us from things like this, or why he doesn’t at times. But like Austin says, there are no other alternatives. No “what if’s,” or “if only’s,” we can only trust that if we knew everything He does, we wouldn’t change one thing (used by permission).

Sarah was being th(i)nkful.  She was thinking thanks in the middle of a very frightening and difficult thing.  Rather than bemoaning the destruction of her car, worrying about insurance claims, or how she would get to work, her thoughts went quickly to giving thanks to God.