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From Gratitude to God

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I usually open my small-group study for those considering belief by asking what they hope to get out of the course.  One woman’s answer surprised me:

“I want to know who to thank.”

My class is called The Anchor Course, based on the class textbook I wrote with the same name.  As we get acquainted with each other during the first week, one of the questions I ask is what drew them to the study.  Most people express their desire to find something that will give meaning to life, but I remember one woman who gave me a unique answer.

“I have a different reason to be part of this study,” she said.  “I just had a baby, and my life is filled with so much joy.  I want to know who to thank.”

What a profound statement!  This young woman recognized that much of the wonder and joy in her life could not be attributed to anything she had earned.  Perhaps for the first time in her life, she felt an overwhelming sense of what could only be described as gratitude, and for her that implied a Giver.  It led her on a search for someone to thank.

We can be like pigs that came upon apples on the ground:  We can enjoy the sweet things of life without ever looking up to see where they came from.

It’s true that a lot of people experience unfair pain and disappointment, but we are not looking at all the facts if we simply point to the undeserved heartbreaks of life and conclude that an attentive God doesn’t exist.  We have to take into account the undeserved joys of life, too.  When we do, like the young woman with her new baby, we will ask, “I want to know if there’s someone to thank for all this.”

David, the beloved poet-king of the Old Testament, had someone to thank.  In one of his poems, overwhelmed with a sense of wonder and gratitude, he said to himself–

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits.”
     –Psalms 103:2 NASB

This Thanksgiving season, let a heart of gratitude lead you to the Someone you can thank!

(For more information on The Anchor Course, go to www.anchorcourse.org.)




The Power of Your Expectations

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We all know about the placebo effect, but now researchers are discovering that the “nocebo effect” exists, too.  And there’s a lesson here about the impact of expectations on our reality.

 
When testing the effectiveness of a medication, some subjects will be given the real deal while some will be given a placebo, a fake pill.  Patients are only told they’re in a drug study, and none of them are told whether they’re on the trial drug or a placebo.  What’s interesting is that sometimes the intended outcome of the real medication shows up in those taking the placebo.  The simple expectation that the medication will get them better seems to get some patients better.  That’s what’s called the placebo effect.
 
But now researchers are looking into what has been dubbed the “nocebo effect.”  When a patient is warned about a medication’s potential side effects, sometimes those unwelcome things show up even among the control patients on the placebo.  Medically, patients on a fake pill shouldn’t suffer any sort of reaction, but the belief that they are on the real medication causes some control patients to suffer the side effects of the real medication.  They’ve reported the nausea, dizziness, impotence, blood-pressure changes, or gastrointestinal pains that they were warned may happen.
 
Ah, the power of our expectations.  And, ah, the power others have over our expectations.  Because, you see, researchers of the nocebo effect now caution doctors to be careful in how they communicate the possible effects of their recommended actions.  “Words are the most powerful tool a doctor possesses,” the renowned cardiologist Bernard Lown once said, “but words, like a two-edged sword, can maim as well as heal.”
 
Now, I don’t partake of any poison fruit from the “prosperity theology” tree.  But let’s acknowledge that our attitudes are powerful things.  Either hope or cynicism can have a real impact on whether we make forward progress in life.  It can have a real impact on the lives of others, too.
 
When Jesus stood at the grave of Lazarus (John 11), he told the man’s grieving sister, “He who believes in me will live even though he dies.”  Then he asked an important question:  “Do you believe this?”
 
How you answer that question make all the difference in how you handle whatever deadness is in your discipleship, your marriage, your grown children, your dreams.
 
I’m holding out for resurrection.
 
Do you believe this?

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The Power of Your Forgiveness

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When Dylann Roof first appeared in a courtroom, accused of killing nine people at a Bible study at Emmanuel AME church in Charleston, grieving relatives had an opportunity to confront Roof through a video feed. What they said stunned the world.

“You took something very precious from me, but I forgive you,” said the daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance. “We have no room for hating, so we have to forgive,” said the sister of another. “I pray God on your soul.” One by one, representatives of the murdered victims rose for similar statements.

In truth, though, the story convicts us as much as it inspires us. “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea,” C.S. Lewis wrote. “That is, until they have something to forgive.”

Do you have something to forgive? Jesus often reminded us that forgiven people forgive people (e.g. Matthew 18:21-35).

Know, however, that Christ’s call to forgive is not just a stern command: It’s filled with promise! Because of God’s amazing grace to us, we have the ability show some amazing grace of our own.

The late Corrie Ten Boom discovered this. Churches often invited her to speak about how her Christian family suffered in Nazi concentration camps for their resistance. After one church service in Munich, however, one of her former guards came up to her, beaming. “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,” he said. “To think that, as you say, he has washed my sins away!”

He thrust his hand out to shake hers, but she froze. “I tried to smile,” she wrote later. “I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. And so I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me your forgiveness.”

And then it happened: “As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me. And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on his. When he tells us to love our enemies, he gives, along with the command, the love itself.”

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Meet Elroy

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Do you need a reminder today that God is your Elroy?

Of all the titles given to God in the Bible, this one is most insightful. Come to think of it, insightful is really the best adjective, because this title for God means “God sees.”

In the Bible, we’re taught this name for God not by a prophet or a theologian but by a pregnant teenage slave girl named Hagar. When she fled from unfair treatment, God’s angel met her in the wilderness and strengthened her. She exclaimed, “I have now seen the One who sees me,” and from that moment she called the Lord by the name “El Roi”—“God sees!” (Genesis 16:13)

I wonder if she was drawing from her cultural background when she said that. She was raised in a culture that valued cats whose keen eyes enabled them to keep rats out of the dark granaries so essential for life. In fact, I’m told that the eyes actually glow in the stone idol of the Egyptian goddess Pasht (“Cat”) on display in in the Louvre Museum in Paris. The ancient craftsmen highlighted the eyes with some phosphorescent material as a way to emphasize the visual power of their goddess even in the dark. The artwork is dated a little before the time of Hagar.

It was the Lord that Hagar met in her wilderness experience, not Pasht. But when she described the significance of that meeting, what she valued was God’s ability to see her in the darkness of her troubles. So far from home, suffering an intolerable situation, she met a God who said, “I know what you’re going through.” And she exclaims, “I’m not alone! I have met El Roi, the God who sees me!”

The story of God’s dealings with Abraham is the main plot of Genesis 12-23, not Hagar. And yet in Genesis 16 there is this gracious side note about God’s dealings with his wife’s Egyptian handmaiden. And because of that side note, you and I have another title to call God: El Roi.

When I’m praying with someone in crisis, one of the phrases I tend to use is, “God, show us in large ways and in a hundred small ways how you are walking with us through this experience.” Maybe you need to pray that right now, and then look around for how God is going to answer that prayer. May you see the One who sees you!

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What if God Responds?

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If you consider yourself a seeker after God, you should seriously consider if you’re ready to meet the God you say you want to know.

I remember an experience on a fishing trip from many years ago. I must have been only 9 or 10 when it happened, but I still remember how weak my knees got and how hard my heart pounded.

My uncle had baited my line and dropped it over the railing of a walkway that ran along a Gulf coast causeway in Pensacola, Florida. The bridge had been decommissioned for anything but foot traffic, and it was a rickety old thing. The wooden planks were weather-beaten and rough under my bare feet, and the whole contraption shuddered with every footfall. My uncle had walked ahead of me, trolling his line over the handrail as he went. Soon he was a hundred yards away, and it was quiet enough to hear the rhythmic slapping of the seawater upon the pylons twenty feet below.

Little boys love to “go fishing,” but they can quickly get bored without any action on the line. I had fallen into that bored state, dully letting my bait sway upon the surface of the rolling swells.

Suddenly, a huge fish emerged from the murky waters and shot toward my line. Fearing that such a magnificent fish would pull me off that old wooden walkway and into the wild, deep sea far below, I panicked and yanked my line out of the water. The fish disappeared into the deep as quickly as it had appeared, and I was left alone again with unsteady legs and a thumping heart.

While many of the people I’ve talked to are on a sincere spiritual search, others merely “troll” for God. They have no anticipation of finding what they say they’re searching for. If God’s presence actually welled up from out of the mysterious deep, they would abandon their search for fear of being pulled away and overwhelmed.

In your spiritual search, it’s important to settle the question of what kind of “fisherman” you are. What will you do when what you’ve been searching for actually responds?

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About Tom

ANCHOR COURSE LOGO Tom Goodman is a graduate of Baylor University and Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, and he holds a doctorate from New Orleans Seminary. He has served as pastor in Louisiana, north Texas, and overseas in Grand Cayman before becoming the pastor of Hillcrest Church in Austin, Texas. Diane and Tom have been married since their days at Baylor University, and they have two sons, Michael and Stephen. Tom enjoys scuba diving, watching the latest Netflix DVD with Diane, and chasing mis-hit golf balls.
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