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