Thanksgiving is Giving Credit to Someone

Who Gets the Credit?

Have you ever noticed how many people get up and leave when it’s time for the credits at the end of a movie?  Here you have enjoyed a great story representing countless hours of work that a huge team has slaved over, but you don’t really care who all gets the credit.  I wonder if we do that in real life.

Thanksgiving is an act of humility.  Expressing thanks is saying that credit or praise belongs to someone else; to God or to other people.  Arrogant pride says I’m not sufficiently served by others; I did it by myself.  I am self sufficient.  I don’t want to owe anyone anything.  I internalize the credit and externalize the blame.

But life with Jesus Christ is so different.  He designs things so I can’t do it by myself.  On purpose!  He wants me to see that I need Him.  Desperately.  And then when I succeed, or maybe just survive an ordeal, I must give Him the credit.  He is to be thanked!cameron-patterson-co-business-accountant-handshake-office

When you take the time to shake someone’s hand and say “thank you,” you are giving that person credit.  You acknowledge that they did something that was beyond your control or ability.

A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame, a little less than his share of the credit.” Arnold H. Glasow

Are there people in your life that need to receive credit from you?  What about your God?  Do you thank Him for who He is and what He has done?

Thanksgiving is giving the credit to someone else

fullsizeoutput_ffdGiving flowers at the end of a concert, or a conductor pointing his finger to orchestra members in gratitude, are gestures of someone giving credit to another.  Speeches given by award recipients typically deflect praise and thanks to parents and friends.  Christian coaches and quarterbacks throw their thanks to teammates and to Jesus Christ.

We give thanks when we release the credit from ourselves and give that credit to another.  When God exhorts us to give thanks in every circumstance, He knows that is for our own good. It is a self-sufficient and thankless society that will call a day dedicated to giving thanks to God “turkey day.”

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A family “saying grace” before a meal

We receive a blessing, something the Bible calls “grace,” when we release the credit.  This is why a family holding hands around the table and giving thanks to the One who provided the food they are about to receive calls it “saying grace.”  It’s profound, just like our amazing Lord Jesus said in Acts 20:35: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

So, resolve this week to pass along credit to three people in your life, thanking them for who they are to you or what they’ve done for you. And then also talk to your Father, and the Son, and the Spirit about the credit they immensely deserve for all that they have done in you and for you.

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” William Arthur Ward1208gift

 

The Brain and Thinking

Our Amazing Brains

When God created mankind in His likeness, He gave us an amazing brain. Simply put, the brain controls the mental and physical processes and the actions of a human being.brain 3

Ready for a big word?  Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to change throughout an individual’s life.

It can be shaped very much like a ball of Play-Doh, albeit with a bit more time and effort. 🙂

Scientists claim that the brain is capable of being re-engineered – its shape, size, and functions modified – and that we are the engineers.

“Thought changes structure … I saw people rewire their brains with their thoughts, to cure previously incurable obsessions and trauma.” ~ Norman Doidge, Canadian-born psychiatrist and author of The Brain That Changes Itself.

Complaining and the Brain

My friend, Joanna Chapmon, sent me an article on how complaining affects the brain.brain 1 This is a visual of what happens when we constantly complain.

The neural pathways that we engage in when complaining actually change the shape of the brain, causing us to complain even more!

When we instead choose to be th(i)nkful, we can also change our brains. By choosing to think thanks about every situation in our lives we change the shape of our neural brain pathway making it easier to think thanks in the future.  Our brains are not stagnant, but continually change as they are programmed through repeated thoughts and attitudes throughout our days.

“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”
Proverbs 17:22

The admonitions in scripture from Ephesians 4:23 and Romans 12:2 sure make a lot more sense in the light of this discovery – we must renew our minds.  But amazingly, by doing so, we can actually change the inner workings of our brains to make renewed thoughts flow more naturally.  The Lord wants us to worship Him with our thoughts.  When we choose to think thanks, we are obeying His will for us as stated in Ephesians 5:20 and I Thessalonians 5:18.  Give thanks always in every circumstance!

Th(i)nkful’s Benefits

The brain article mentioned pointed out:

“In depression, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the brain. It’s simply that the particular tuning of neural circuits creates the tendency toward a pattern of depression. It has to do with the way the brain deals with stress, planning, habits, decision-making and a dozen other things — the dynamic interaction of all those circuits. And once a pattern starts to form, it causes dozens of tiny changes throughout the brain that create a downward spiral.”

Although there can be physical reasons for why someone becomes clinically depressed, there are often major reasons connected with the person’s thought patterns. Just think of the positive effects on a person’s brain when he/she engages in a pattern of th(i)nkfulness.

gibbJane Gibb, a dear co-worker of mine, shared with me how she was struggling with some stress at a particular time. She decided to engage thinking thanks about that situation, and as she cultivated the thought pattern of looking for things to give thanks for in her situation and started writing things down, the stress lessened.  She benefited.  She was putting God’s Word into practice by renewing her mind.

Challenge

So how are you programming your brain these days?  You are programming yourself whether on purpose, or not.  Do you naturally gravitate towards complaining about a situation or do you instead look for things to be thinkful about in that situation?

I challenge you to begin aggressively carving out some new th(i)nkful neural pathways that will not only help you grow in Christ as He desires, but also benefit you physically as well.

Further study:

  • Professor Richard Restak, Optmizing Brain Fitness.
  • Dr. Caroline Leaf, a South African neurologist,  has done extensive work on the thinking and the brain.

“It is only with gratitude that life becomes rich!”  –Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Second Right

Anxiety My Enemy

Anxiety is not my friend.

I have had a propensity towards being anxious as long as I can remember.  Philippians 4:6, which says, “Don’t be anxious about anything,”  has been a place where I have parked often.

Recently I had a friend point out some valuable insights into that passage. When you consider the verses that surround the famous verse 6, you get a better picture of what Paul was exhorting the Philippians to do.

4 Rights

Let’s take Philippians 4:5-9 apart. There are 4 Rights in this passage – Right Awareness, Right Praying, Right Thinking, and Right Practice.

1. Right AwarenessRight Awareness

(v.5 CSB) Let your graciousness [gentleness, reasonableness] be known to everyone.  The Lord is near.  When we are in a conflict or facing hard circumstances, that pressure can cause our words and reactions to be filled with spikes and poison.  We need to realize that God is right here in our presence (Matthew 28:20, 1 Corinthians 6:19, Hebrews 13:5-6), and we are right there in God’s presence (Ephesians 2:6, Hebrews 10:19-22)!

Every sin that we commit is a result of a wrong view of God. If we practiced His presence, we would sputter and fume less and speak to Him more.  Jesus tore down the curtain into the Holy Place by His work on the cross, and we are allowed to enter in without a priest and speak to the God who created or permitted these circumstances!  The Lord is near is a great reminder that we should turn our thoughts toward Him and pour out our hearts.  He is there observing us; He fights for us; He prays for us. He is at hand in formulating the trial and filtering the toxic to get us to trust Him and talk to Him.

2. Right Praying.

(vv.6-7) Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgivingRight Praying 2 let your requests be make known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

This SECOND RIGHT is the one I want to emphasize. In the middle of instructing us to ask God to respond to our needs in specific ways, Paul adds “with thanksgiving.”  We are to pray earnestly (“please help with this”) with thanksgiving (“thanks for this”). We need to think thanks about what is testing us and express that thanks to God.

How do we do that?  We choose to look for things that we can be th(i)nkful for right in the difficulty.  It is after praying this way that the supernatural peace comes that will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. In fact, some would argue that thanksgiving is the trigger for downloading God’s peace.

3. Right Thinking.Right thinking

(v. 8) Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise think about these things.

Having rolled my burdens onto the Lord, it is amazing how quickly I grab them back and then stress over them as though I am the only God who can fix them.  Paul writes that the battle is in our meditations. I need to focus on what’s true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy.  By way of contrast,  what we should not think about are things that are untrue, improper, dodgy, blameworthy, evil, dubious, unethical, shameful, ignoble, and disgraceful, to name a few.

4. Right Practice.

(v.9) What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

So after we have now learned this new way of living – right awareness of the Lord’s presence right here, right now, right praying that always includes thanksgiving, and right thinking that fuels our outlook and conduct, we are to DO this over and over.  We practice this.  We are not just hearers of the Word, but doers.

Second Right

Being th(i)nkful is a direct cure for anxiety.  When we worry, we are not trusting that God is in control.  When we are th(i)nkful, we are resting in His sovereignty and choosing to meditate on all the things we can be thankful for instead of untruths that fuel our anxieties.

Dr. Shelbi Cullen, my counseling internship professor at Master’s Seminary, shared these thoughts to help me help others, but I have found that it is first helping me.  🙂

  1. Remember that the Lord is right nearby.
  2. Pray hard with thanksgiving.
  3. Think the right way.
  4. Practice these things.

Practice th(i)nkfulness to vanish anxiety

ALMOST ~ AM LOST

On Israel’s Shore – Caesarea Maritima

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

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

The Problem With “Almost”

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

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

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

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

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

Th(i)nkful For Grace

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

Irony of the Aqueducts

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

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

Lives Still Transformed

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

 

 

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

Acts 26:28-29

Th(i)nkful in Gethsemane

Journey to Gethsemane

Jerusalem. David and I were experiencing a dream trip come true.  Someone had provided a way for us to join a small study group to Israel.  All my life I had desired to see the places where Jesus walked and to have my eyes opened to the events of the Bible in an extraordinary manner.  I was full of thinking thanks as we actually walked along the old Jerusalem walls, into the Kidron valley, and up the Mount of Olives into the Garden of Gethsemane. The olive trees were astounding!

As we entered I realized that it was a lot smaller than I had imagined.  Probably one reason for that was the Church of All Nations that now occupies much of the area where the garden had originally been.  The word Gethsemane means olive press.  Since the Mount of Olives is covered with olive tress, that is a most fitting name.  The garden seemed more cultivated than I expected, probably more than it was when Jesus and His disciples had gone there 2,000 years ago.  IMG_5053A fence enclosed the garden, protecting the ancient olive trees, and beautiful flowers were growing in between the old trees.  I could see walkways, but people were not allowed to enter.

Th(i)nkful for Freddie

Not sure if I was super-exhausted from travel and walking many miles a day, or because I was truly aware of the immensity of what happened on that piece of ground, but I began to cry.  Tears were streaming down my face as I peered over the fence that surrounded the garden.  I was so very th(i)nkful that Jesus “saw it through.”  For my sake, he endured through the arrest and the illegal trial that night, and then the beatings, the mocking, and the agony of the cross the next day.  The overwhelming agony was sadly juxtaposed with the underwhelmed cluelessness of his disciples who were not even able to stay awake and pray with Him.  I don’t expect I would have done any better as I so often yield to the frailty of my flesh.

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A man inside the garden walked up to me.  He noticed my tears and was gentle and kind.  He said that he had been the gardener there for 21 years, and his father for 40 years before him.  His name was Freddie; his father was from Romania and his mother an American Jew. He asked me to wait a minute while he went to get something.  He returned with some small sprigs clipped from the oldest olive tree in the garden!  As we continued to chat with him, we found out that Freddie’s mother was very sick so David asked if he could pray for her, and he did.

Some of the olive trees there were so huge and gnarled.  I had never seen such trees in all my life.  I wondered if in fact some of them could actually have been there 2,000 years ago when Jesus was there?

2000 year old olive tree

Rosemary in Gethsemane

IMG_5454As an epilogue, I wanted to mention that someone once told me that there was a lot of the herb rosemary in the Garden of Gethsemane.  That connected with me.  I love rosemary, and to think that it may have been growing around the area where Jesus prayed brought me joy.  Perhaps he stroked His fingers over the rosemary and smelled it like I love to do. So I was on the lookout for that as I walked around the garden.

Sure enough I found it on the north side.  It was neatly planted in a row, but I am sure that when Jesus was there it grew more wildly.

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and He said to His disciples. Sit here, while I go over there and pray. And taking with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, He began to be sorrowful and troubled.  Then he said to them, My soul is very sorrowful , even to death; remain here, and watch with Me. 

Matthew 26:36-38

 

 

 

What is Th(i)nkful?

Definition

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

So…practically what does that really look like?

30,000 Feet Up

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

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

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

Th(i)nkful Created

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

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

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

Th(i)nkful List:

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

 

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

Godliness with Contentment is Great Gain

Contentment

The Battle for Contentment

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

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

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

The Source of Contentment is Within

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

Contentment and Ambition

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

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

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

Being Th(i)nkful Brings Contentment

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

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

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

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

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