What Does “Thank You” Mean Anyway?

This week’s (USA) Thanksgiving post is excerpted from my latest ebook, The Why and How of Bible Translation: What Every Christian Should Know, But Few Do. Read it here and then, at the end, consider one way to put your gratitude into practice.

While translating the Bible with the Canela people of Brazil, my wife and I ran into a problem—we could not find a simple word or phrase for the concept carried in English by such words as gratitude, thanksgiving, grateful, thankful, and “Thank you.”

Were the Canelas never grateful? we wondered. And if they were, how did they express it? We knew we had to find a solution. After all, thanksgiving is a major, basic biblical virtue.

We asked ourselves, “What is implied when we say, ‘Thanks’?”
Here is our list:

  1. I had a need—something I didn’t have, or some problem I could not solve by myself.
  2. You had what I needed.
  3. You became aware of my need.
  4. You realized you could help me by supplying my need.
  5. You made the effort to give me what I needed.
  6. What you gave to me, or did for me, was good; it perfectly fit my need.
  7. I am now satisfied and happy.
  8. I feel a sense of debt to you.
  9. I acknowledge what you did by saying something to you.

Once we compiled the list, we saw immediately how Canelas expressed gratitude. When receiving something they sometimes said, “Ita ahna, impej,” meaning, “It’s right, it’s good,” expressing #6 on the list.

When they were very pleased with a gift they would say, “Ate ima hor pyren, ijakry!” meaning “Because you gave it to me, I am happy!” expressing #7.

Other cultures focus on different aspects. For instance, Brazilians say “Obrigado” meaning “I am obligated to you” expressing #8.

Several cultures say, “I’m terribly sorry” which focuses on #5, the fact that the giver freely took the time and trouble to meet their need.

Human Babies: the Most Self-Centered Beings on Earth
Expressing gratitude does not come naturally to us. Not surprising since we start life as babies—the most self-centered beings on earth. It is all about our food, our comfort, and our pleasure. As small children, we have to learn that it’s not all about us. We need to learn to be aware of others, to share toys, to await our turn, and to be aware of the rights of other people.

Selfish ingratitude has a history as long as the age of the universe. It started with Satan, the most impressive, beautiful and powerful angel created by God. Satan owed everything he was and all his abilities to God who created him, yet was not thankful. He refused to acknowledge God as superior, the Great Provider, and instead launched an angelic rebellion to usurp the throne of God.

Ever since being expelled from heaven, Satan has polluted the minds and wills of people with his ungrateful attitude. The apostle Paul describes people under the power of Satan, “. . . they neither glorified God nor gave thanks to Him . . . ” Romans 1:21 (NIV).

5,000 people dead, 600,000 homeless and hungry

5,000 people dead, 600,000 homeless and hungry

A Unique Way to Express Thanks to God
When I saw the newscasts of the devastation in the Philippines caused by typhoon Haiyan, my gratitude for being spared such suffering took the form of #8, I felt a sense of debt that moved me to pray for, and contribute to, disaster relief efforts there.

If you click on this link,  https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/364616  and buy the Why and How of Bible Translation ebook before December 9, I will donate the $3.00 profit I get from each sale to the World Vision Typhoon Haiyan Disaster Relief Fund.

The Canadian government will match my $3.00 gift dollar for dollar, which means that if you spend $3.99 to buy this book, $6.00 will go to the Typhoon Haiyan Fund. (1,000 sales would generate $6,000 for the Fund.)

Or you might want to show your gratitude to God, and concern for the suffering, by donating a larger amount directly to this fund through clicking this link.

What Makes Us Tick (Part 2)

In last week’s column we focused on our brain—the stunningly efficient processor in our heads. Today we want to focus on what programs this living computer since the program determines the final outcome.

Education in and of itself is not what programs our mental computers. Instead, it is our values: our virtues, principles, convictions, ideals, motives, morals, ethics or character that we hold dear that instruct our brains.

“The aim of education is the knowledge, not of facts, but of values.” Dean W.R. Inge. The problem is that education models often pride themselves in being “value-free,” provoking C.S. Lewis to write, “Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.” Value-free education produces heads full of knowledge but hearts empty of virtues such as integrity, honesty, and trustworthiness.

How Can We Discover Our Values?
Try the fear test. What are you afraid of? Think about it. Our fears point to what we value. Most people fear crippling injury, serious mental or bodily illness, or premature death. Obviously, we value our total health and life.

Canela Boys Stay With Their Age Group for Life

Canela Boys Stay With Their Age Group for Life

The Canelas fear fights and divisions among themselves. The strongest condemnation is not for stealing or lying but for someone who hits another. The Canelas obviously value their community-based culture of family, friends, belonging and togetherness.

Things I Fear
I fear suffering a major moral lapse in the areas of money, sex, or power. My fears point to values like continued good fellowship with God, being held in high regard by my family and colleagues, and having an effective ministry as a speaker and writer.

I also fear poverty which leads to not being able to travel to be with people I love, not being able to buy the things or services for myself or to help others, all within reason, of course. This fear indicates I value mobility, being able to choose where to live, live in relative comfort, having the ability to help others in need, and having an valuable Kingdom ministry.

I fear losing all my computer data, fifty years of diaries, personal history, and photos. I very much value being able to leave a legacy to our descendants of what God has done in and through Jo and me and our family.

Try this exercise yourself. List the things you fear, then ask why you fear them and list your values. Now check these values against the Bible. Read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and the book of Proverbs for some clearly stated biblical principles, ethics and ideals.

We may find that our values need some upgrading, from being narcissistic, and materialistic to being more God-centered. Reading the Bible will grow those values in our lives. Our biblically sound values will program our brain to make decisions that lead to a God-pleasing life.

More Advantages to Knowing What We Value
Modeling biblically sound values and talking about them to our children and grandchildren will influence them to develop these values too. Our influence and example will live long after we are gone.

  • Having a set of clear values and strong convictions will help us make decisions quickly and wisely.
  • Only strong convictions growing from clear values can withstand strong temptations.
  • When our values are clear we can influence other people and reach into their lives to give them the help they need.
  • As we live in accord with our values, our self-respect grows, and others are drawn closer to us.

God has given us a great computer processor, which we need to keep healthy and protected. Our chief responsibility, however, is to make sure we run the right programs. We can only do that when we know and develop values that line up with what God’s Word calls wisdom.

Soaking our minds in the Word of God by reading and pondering it regularly, is therefore, the best way to develop the clear values and strong convictions that program our fabulous, God-given brain. Our well-programmed brains will move us to live God-pleasing lives.


What Makes Us Tick (Part 1)

Isaac Asimov, my favorite philosopher and science fiction writer wrote, “The human brain is the most complicated organization of matter that we know.”

Our brains compare favorably to a computer. The processing power of an average brain is estimated to be at least ten times as fast as current super-computers.

Our home computers instantly calculate a large number of mathematical formulas in a spreadsheet, a feat impossible for a human mathematician. Our human brains, however, can multitask far better than a computer.

The Hockey Computer
When a hockey player stick-handles the puck past a defense man, he not only sees the moving puck and the approaching defense man, he sees the rest of the players, the speed and direction in which everyone is moving, and, of course, the position of the goalie in the goal he is headed for. The 200 million neurons of his eyes’ retinas are sending 10 million point images per second through the optic nerve—a million-fibre cable—which reaches deep into the brain, where the images from both eyes are combined to calculate depth of field and movement.

Hockey 1His brain also continually processes the movement and feedback from his arms and hands as they control the puck, and from his legs, feet and torso as he speeds up, turns, stops and starts. His ears send streams of impulses through the auditory nerves to the brain which processes the roar of the crowd, while alert for a referee’s whistle and keeps his speeding, twisting, turning body in balance. As he flashes by the boards, he hears his girlfriend cheer and feels an emotional response. All the while, the same brain continues to regulate his breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, and digestion.

But even though our 1,500-gram (3 pound) brains are incredibly complex and multitask far faster than any super-computer, that is not what really matters.

What is Most Important?
A computer can run a program guiding a surgeon to excise a deadly tumour, or it can run a program that guides a weapons system to kill and destroy many lives. In the same way, the brains in our heads can be programmed to curse, kill and destroy, or bless, love and give life. And everything in between these two extremes.

So what is it that programs and guides our brains?

It is not IQ. Our intelligence quotient is simply the measure of the ability of our brain to process information. But this has nothing to do with our programming.

It is not education. Two people can have identical IQs and receive the same education and yet one person’s brain is programmed to become a murderous Mafia boss while the other’s brain guides him to found a humanitarian organization.

Insight From Canela Philosophy
The Canela word for the heart of a tree is caxwyn. This is also the word for inner person or soul. It is our caxwyn—our hearts, that program our human brains. Our innermost selves hold our values: our principles, convictions, ideals, motives, morals, ethics or character.

What our hands do, our mouths say, and the way we live our lives, is controlled by the brains in our heads. Our brains, however, are guided by the values in our hearts. Since as Christians we want to live lives that please God, we need to be aware of what our values are.

How can I discover what I value? How can I change my values? How can I confirm and strengthen my values? And how can I pass them on to my children? What are some values that produce a positive life? What are some values necessary to influence others to live well?

See What Makes Us Tick, Part 2, in next week’s posting.