A Mass of Reasons

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good (good, rich, valuable, excellent, right, beautiful, best, bountiful, fine, gracious, joyful, kind, loving, merry, precious, sweet).
Psalm 100:4-5  

For the Lord is good. This sums up his character and contains a mass of reasons for praise.”—Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David

“A mass of reasons” – I love that. Yes, there is always a reason to thank and praise. Though there are always reasons to complain and even despair, let me turn my eyes to my loving Father, to my beautiful, gracious, kind, precious Lord. He is the one I can always run to – when I have a “skinned knee” of the soul, when I am afraid of the thunder of what is going on in this world – he is always there with open arms.

Give thanks to him and praise his name!

 

I would like to thank Ruth at the Plantedbylivingwater blog for her 365 Days of Thanks challenge. Thank you for the daily prod and reminder!

 

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With Tears

I have this picture in my head of my grandmother packing away in the few trunks they could bring beautifully sewn coverlets and lace curtains, along with all her dreams of hanging those curtains in the windows of that cute little starter cottage.

As I get older, I have become interested in genealogy. I especially like to explore the less-trod histories of the “Grammas.” In doing so I recently dug up a real hidden treasure. The story starts with my great-grandfather, Nathan Douglas. According to the History of Oakland County Michigan, my grandfather, as a young man, accompanied his father, the Rev. Caleb Douglas and the pastor of their church, Rev. Elon Galusha on a mission trip from Whitesboro, New York to the wilderness of Michigan in the fall of 1822. There, they preached to the scattered pioneer families and founded the first Baptist church near Pontiac. In June of the following year Nathan came back to Michigan in the company of his father “who preached and broke bread to the church.”[i]

Exhilarated with the success of the missions and, I’m sure, loving the beautiful Michigan wilderness, the young man, who would later come to be called “Deacon Nathan,” went home determined to return. Apparently, as the story goes, my great-grandmother was not so thrilled with the idea. But, in 1824, the Deacon and his bride of six months, Frances, packed up all their belongings into an oxen-drawn wagon and started the 570-mile trek to, what is now, Troy, Michigan. The History of Macomb County Michigan relates that they “located in the primal wilderness, cleared a space and built a log home, in which they lived four weeks before doors and windows could be procured.  The time was made interesting by the screeching of owls and howling of wolves.”[ii]

I have this picture in my head of Gramma Frances packing away in the few trunks they could bring beautifully sewn coverlets[iii] and lace curtains, along with all her dreams of hanging those curtains in the windows of that cute little starter cottage with the white picket fence and flower arbor and perhaps a secluded rose garden retreat in the back.

The story continues with the bride walking ahead of the slow-moving oxen, weeping as she went, and sometimes sitting down on a fallen log to have a good cry, “of homesickness and dread of the trials of pioneer life.”[iv]

Yup. That would be me – the one being dragged kicking and screaming. I wonder if it is genetic.

I think Jesus understood the feeling. With grace and mercy, he told a parable of two brothers.

 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered. Matthew 21:28-31 (NIV)

So, what was Jesus saying here? That the son, who at first, kicking and screaming, wailed, “I don’t wanna!” but who went anyway, was the one who did the will of the Father, the one who pleased God. It’s part of that picking up your cross daily decision, “dying to the flesh,” getting out of your comfort zone, leaving your cozy little cottage and trekking into the wilderness where there are wolves and mosquitoes and hard work. It’s about perseverance and endurance. It’s about how you end, not so much how you start out.

My grandmother raised eight children, six sons and two daughters. Four sons were dentists and one was a minister, and the rest of the children sturdy farmers. Deacon Nathan and Frances celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1874. They continued on working in the church that whole time. It is said that grandmother “sang in the church choir a great many years, having a fine contralto voice.”[v]

But I think I will remember her mostly walking and weeping, putting one foot in front of the other. Persevering. Anyway. Yet.

I hope that is genetic too.

Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him. Psalm 126:5-6 (NIV)

Passing through the Valley of Weeping (Baca), they make it a place of springs; The early rain also covers it with blessings. They go from strength to strength [increasing in victorious power]; Each of them appears before God in Zion. Psalm 84:6-7 (Amplified Bible)

Photograph is of my grandmother, Mrs. Nathan Douglas (née Frances B. Smith), which has been passed down in the family.

[i] Durant, Samuel W. History of Oakland County, Michigan, p. 96.

[ii] Leeson, Michael A. History of Macomb County Michigan, pp. 653-654.

[iii] My grandmother was a talented sewer. A sampler and two coverlets made from cloth that she spun herself now reside in the Romeo Historical Society Museum, Romeo, Michigan.

[iv] From James H. Downie and Elizabeth Clark Douglas’s scrapbook. Transcribed by great-granddaughter Aug. 2010.

[v] Ibid.

The Most Important Piece of Clothing

Since God chose you to be the holy people whom he loves,

you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy,

kindness,

humility,

gentleness,

and patience.

And the most important piece of clothing you must wear is love.

Colossians 3:12, 14 (NLT)

 

 

Photo, My closet, from m01229 on flickr

Joy

I don’t seem to have much joy in myself right now, but Jesus is saying that I can have his joy – “so my joy may be in you.” And, suddenly, I saw where the joy of Jesus resided.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:9-13 (NIV)

I have been thinking about joy lately, maybe because I have been fighting depression. The Bible talks a lot about the importance of joy. It is listed as a fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22. In other words, it is supposed to be showing up in my life if I say I have the Spirit of God in me, If I say I am a follower of Jesus.

So, I started looking at the verses in the Bible about joy, and I was stopped in my tracks by Jesus’ words in John 15:11 above. I don’t seem to have much joy in myself right now, but he is saying that I can have his joy – “so my joy may be in you.” And, suddenly, I saw where, in the context of those verses, the joy of Jesus resided.

It was in the middle of relationship.

The verses before John 15:11 speak of Jesus’ relationship with the Father – how the Father loves Jesus and how Jesus remains in that love. How that love pours out of Jesus and into us, how Jesus loves us and how we can remain, reside, dwell in that love. Jesus’ passion on the Cross was to make it possible for us to share in that relationship of love with the Father.

The verses after John 15:11 speak of our relationship with others. Jesus’ passion now is for us to pour out the love given us to those around us who don’t know him, to bring them into that loving relationship too.

It’s in the sharing of love that Jesus’ joy happens. That’s where his joy springs up in us and fills us with joy that is “complete.” That word means replete, crammed, jammed, stuffed, imbued, filled to the brim. Jesus commands us to do that, to love each other, so that we – and the ones we love – can have that kind of joy.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23a (NIV)

Notice in the list of fruits where joy is positioned. Love comes first. Relationship comes first. If I love him as he loved me – which was with everything, with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his mind and with all his strength – and if I love others that way too (actually it is his love flowing down through me), all the other things on the list will pour down on me. Just as Jesus loved us first looking forward to the joy.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2 (NIV)

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. 1 John 1: 3-4 (NIV)

I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Luke 15:7 (NASB)

 

Photo copyright 2019 Derek Bair, all rights reserved

Amen!

When Jesus is translated, so many times, as saying, “verily, verily I say to you” he was really saying “amen, amen” – or “you can trust what I am going to say, you can stand on this Rock.”

“These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.” Revelation 3:14 (NIV) 

In Revelation 3:14 the Lord Jesus calls Himself “the Amen.”  That really struck me, so I looked up the definition of the word. It means firm and faithful. Jesus, the firm foundation. Jesus, faithful and true. At the beginning of a discourse it means “surely, truly, or verily,” so that when Jesus is translated, so many times, as saying, “verily, verily I say to you” he was really saying “amen, amen” – or “you can trust what I am going to say, you can stand on this Rock.” At the end of a discourse or sermon it means “so it is, so be it, or may it be fulfilled.”

According to the Thayer Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, saying amen “was a custom, which passed over from the synagogues to the Christian assemblies, that when he who had read or discoursed, had offered up solemn prayer to God, the others responded Amen, and thus made the substance of what was uttered their own.” Yes, I believe it. Yes, I am putting my trust in this.

But I also found out something about the origins of the word. According to NetBible, “The word ‘amen’ is a most remarkable word. It was transliterated directly from the Hebrew into the Greek of the New Testament, then into Latin and into English and many other languages, so that it is practically a universal word. It has been called the best known word in human speech. The word is directly related — in fact, almost identical — to the Hebrew word for “believe” (amam), or faithful. Thus, it came to mean “sure” or “truly,” an expression of absolute trust and confidence.”

So it is very comforting to me that the Bible ends with the word “Amen.” This is something that can be trusted. This is true. “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God.” (2 Corinthians 1:20 NIV)

Amen! So be it! I’m standing on this Rock!

 

Image in the Public Domain: Woman standing on a rock near Villa de Leyva, Colombia by Joshua Earle https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Woman_standing_on_a_rock_near_Villa_de_Leyva,_Colombia_(Unsplash).jpg

 

Captured

During a bible study at the jail I mentioned to a woman that we are all the same in God’s eyes, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. She responded, “Yeah, we just got caught.”

“No man’s really any good till he knows how bad he is, or might be; till he’s realised exactly how much right he has to all this snobbery, and sneering, and talking about ‘criminals,’ as if they were apes in a forest ten thousand miles away; … till he’s squeezed out of his soul the last drop of the oil of the Pharisees; till his only hope is somehow or other to have captured one criminal, and kept him safe and sane under his own hat.” Father Brown in G.K. Chesterton’s The Secret of Father Brown, 1927

The above quote reminded me of a conversation I had with a woman at the jail recently. During a bible study I mentioned that we are all the same in God’s eyes, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. She responded, “Yeah, we just got caught.”

Funny, but true. Jesus made it clear who the criminals are.

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” Matthew 5:21-22 (NIV)

But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:27 (NIV)

In our natural selves we are all caught. Caught in the act. We are all criminals. But Jesus came to capture us in our captivity to sin. He told Peter, “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men” (Luke 5:10). That word translated “catching” is zogreo (ζωγρέω) and literally means to capture or take alive. At its very root is the Greek word ago (ἄγω ) which means “to lead by accompanying to (or into) a place.” “To take alive” sounds fearful, but his heart is always mercy and love. He captures us to lead us to that place of salvation and peace.

When he ascended to the heights, he led a crowd of captives (he led captivity captive), and he gave gifts to his people. Ephesians 4:8 (NLT)

He led captivity captive. He captured the captives – we who are captured by our sin, slaves to the enemy of our souls. Yes, it’s true we are all criminals that need to be captured, but Father Brown was wrong about one thing. We can’t do it ourselves. There is only One who can. There is only One who can keep us “safe and sane under our own hats.” Jesus – who was considered a criminal, though he never sinned outwardly or inwardly. He loved us and allowed himself to be captured and executed that we might be captured and set free as new creatures. We must surrender, wave the white flag, and let the Lover of our souls lead us away.

Lord, let me be in that crowd of captives. Captured by your grace.

A thousand times I’ve failed
Still your mercy remains
Should I stumble again
Still I’m caught in your grace

From the Inside Out by Joel Houston

Turn thou us unto thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned; renew (repair, make new) our days as of old.  Lamentations 5:21 (KJV)

Can plunder be taken from warriors, or captives rescued from the fierce? But this is what the LORD says: “Yes, captives will be taken from warriors, and plunder retrieved from the fierce; I will contend with those who contend with you, and your children I will save. Isaiah 49:24-25 (NIV)

For it is by grace [God’s remarkable compassion and favor drawing you to Christ] that you have been saved [actually delivered from judgment and given eternal life] through faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [not through your own effort], but it is the [undeserved, gracious] gift of God. Ephesians 2:8 (Amplified Bible)

For more on being caught in his wonderful love read Imprisoned

Photo by Jack Bair copyright 2019

Opening Windows

God doesn’t want me to close and hide what’s inside, pretending I have it all together. He’s never been big on “safe” either. He wants the windows open so His light in me can shine out, despite the interior mess it illumines.

I have done nothing but open windows – God has done all the rest … [I resolved] to be as wide open toward people and their need as I am toward God. Windows open outward as well as upward! Windows especially open downward where people need most! – Frank Laubach, Letters by a Modern Mystic

He [the saint] wants himself to be simply a window through which God’s mercy shines on the world. – Thomas Merton, Life and Holiness

This idea of simply “opening the windows” was a hard one for a performance and approval junkie like me to grasp. It has been a revelation and healing to me as I tend to think I have to be wonderful, accomplish wonderful things, be perfect, be the savior somehow.

I chose the above photograph of an open window for this post because the room shown reminds me of the inside of my head, my soul – a big, falling apart, scarred, paint-peeling mess. All that indecipherable graffiti yammering away, images of bad things from my past I don’t want to remember. My instinct is to close the windows and curtain the mess – but make sure the outside looks good. And yet, God seems to want me to keep the windows open, revealing it all to every passer-by.

God’s been teaching me the amazing grace of open windows lately as I visit people at the jail. I go feeling, and confessing to God, emptiness. I have nothing to give or say to them. But as I just ask him to speak through me, pray through me, love them through me and “open the windows” His love fills me and pours out, his words and prayers come to my lips, and his Spirit fills the cell. It doesn’t matter that I am a mess. I have found that my mess ministers to their mess. They rightly see the outward attempt at perfection as hypocrisy.

God doesn’t want me to close and hide what’s inside, pretending I have it all together. He’s never been big on “safe” either. He wants the windows open so His light in me can shine out, despite the interior mess it illumines. That can only happen by his grace and when the light in me is Jesus and his love. Christ in me the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).

Mary accepts an unseen, unborn, and unknown love. She proclaims, “My soul magnifies the Lord,” as if she herself knew she would be a window of grace letting through the light of God’s hidden love. – Suzanne Guthrie, Grace’s Window

Mary, the first to hold the glorious Light of Christ. The first to dare to open the window. And she proclaimed, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” “Magnifies” means to exalt, extol, laud, celebrate, declare great with my mouth. But it also means to magnify, enlarge, show great. My soul, my weakness, my falling apart mess, is a lens that magnifies God. It enlarges him to others; it shows how great he is by comparison. Like the night sky reveals the glory of the stars. All I have to do is be real, be vulnerable, let him love through me, open the window and let the Light out.

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV)

Amazing! You are the light of the world. He was talking to us! We are the town built to have open-windowed houses. We are the lamp that has been lit by his light, and that was never meant to be hidden. The light is in you child of God. There are so many living in darkness today, living in hopelessness, thinking of (or tragically doing) suicide. They need your light.

Jesus commanded us to love as he had loved. Jesus was totally vulnerable. Jesus came to be the Light, to give hope in the darkness.

Frank Laubach said, “I have done nothing but open windows – God has done all the rest” We who have the light in us, let us open our windows.

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.  2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)

 

 

Image, Open Window by Keith Ellwood https://www.flickr.com/search/?text=open%20window%20keith%20ellwood