Book Review: The Women of Easter

Women of Easter book The Women of Easter: Encounter the Savior with Mary of Bethany, Mary of Nazareth, and Mary Magdalene by Liz Curtis Higgs, as the title suggests, tells the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection through the eyes of these three Marys.

Liz lays out the narrative in eight chapters. I chose to read one a week most of the weeks leading up to Easter.

We learn about each of the the Marys. Mary of Bethany and the famous incident with her sister, Martha, the death and resurrection of her brother, Lazarus, and her anointing the feet of Jesus with expensive ointment, wiping them with her hair. Mary of Nazareth, the mother of Jesus. Mary Magdalene, out of whom Jesus cast seven demons (Luke 8:2) (and who is never called a harlot or prostitute in the Bible, though movie writers like to depict her that way).

Liz seamlessly weaves their stories in with the last several days Jesus spent on earth, using multitudes of Scripture references in different translations and snippets from commentaries. I can’t imagine all the study she did before writing this book.

Here are just a few quotes:

When Jesus “no longer moved about publicly among the people of Judea” (John 11:54) because people were after Him:

Jesus was neither afraid of them nor avoiding them. He was simply acting according to His Father’s will. Whenever my prayers are answered with a firm directive to wait, I remind myself that even Jesus had times of waiting, and more than once He did so in a desolate place.

Of Mary of Bethany’s wiping Jesus’ feet with her hair:

This devout follower, this beloved sister, used her long hair to dry a man’s feet—the “lowest job for the lowliest servant.” … Her perfume wasn’t the only thing she sacrificed. Mary laid her whole being before Him: her pride, her reputation, her social standing, her clean hands, her pure heart. She asked nothing of Him, sought no sign of approval, begged for no favors. Confident of His love and acceptance, she simply gave, expecting nothing in return.

When the disciples (not just Judas) rebuked Mary for her extravagance:

They didn’t just wag their fingers at her. They “scolded” (CEB) and “criticized” (GNT); they “censured and reproved” (AMPC). With no concern for her feelings, “they told the woman what a bad thing she had done” (ERV). Poor Mary of Bethany! To share something holy and then to be treated cruelly, not by strangers, but by those who knew her and claimed to know Christ.

Jesus offered a rebuke of His own, aimed not at Mary but at the disciples. “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. John 12: 7

During the triumphal entry (Palm Sunday):

Worship isn’t a task. Worship is a response.

In preparation for the Passover:

Part of trusting God is letting go of our need to know and refusing to fret over the who, what, when, where, and why. When the time comes, the Lord will inform us, just as He did His disciples.

In a passage about Jesus being beaten:

During Lent it’s tempting to hurry toward Easter morning, eager to declare, “He is risen!” Yes, He certainly is. But reminding ourselves what came before His glorious victory over death is how we remain humbled by His sacrifice and grateful for His mercy. We were “bought at a price.” This was the cost.

On the way to the cross …

Jesus stopped to speak to the women. He sees us, beloved. He values us. He cherishes us. On that day He spoke a word of prophecy to these daughters, preparing them for even harder days to come.

When Jesus was buried:

“The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it.” Luke 23:55. Really, have you ever seen such perseverance? They stayed and they stayed and they stayed. This is one of the most important lessons these women teach us. Wherever He leads, follow Jesus. Whatever pain you are enduring, keep your eyes on Jesus. Even when hope seems gone, stay close to Jesus.

After the resurrection:

Woman. The first word spoken by the risen Christ, meant for all His daughters throughout eternity. Woman. An assurance that we matter to Him, that we count for His kingdom. Woman. A term of respect. The very word He used when addressing His beloved mother from the cross. Woman.

There were just a couple of places where I put a question mark, not sure if her observation or comment was exactly right. But I don’t recall that those points were anything major.

This book was a great way to prepare for Easter week. I’m sure I will use it again in the future. But, of course, it’s good reading year round since Christ’s death and resurrection affect us every day.

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Book Review: Good Tidings of Great Joy

I like to read an Advent or Christmas devotional in December. I didn’t have any new ones on hand last year and didn’t want to reread an old one. But then I came across Good Tidings of Great Joy: A Collection of Christmas Sermons by Charles Spurgeon in my Kindle collection.

I thought I could read a bit at a time, like a devotional book. And I could—but I just wasn’t getting as much out of the sermons as I did when I read them one at a time in their entirety. The only days I could work in reading a whole sermon at once were Saturdays. So that’s why I am just now finishing a book of Christmas sermons.

Spurgeon was not a big fan of Christmas, according to these messages. He thought it was too often used as an excuse for excess. And he disliked a superstitious keeping of church holidays. But he did concede that hard-working people could use the time off and that the holidays provided a time to bring out particular truths related to Christ’s birth.

There are eight messages in all, each focused on a text connected to Jesus’ birth. I won’t go into an outline or summary of each message, but I’ll just share a few quotes.

I. The Birth of Christ, Isaiah 7:14-15: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.”

Let us take courage here. If Jesus Christ was born in a manger in a rock, why should He not come and live in our rocky hearts? If He was born in a stable, why should not the stable of our souls be made into a house for Him? If He was born in poverty, may not the poor in spirit expect that He will be their Friend? If He thus endured degradation at the first, will He count it any dishonor to come to the very poorest and humblest of His creatures and tabernacle in the souls of His children? Oh, no! We can gather a lesson of comfort from His humble parentage and we can rejoice that not a queen, or an empress, but that a humble woman became the mother of the Lord of Glory!

And so, “let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” Do not feast as if you wished to keep the festival of Bacchus! Do not live, tomorrow, as if you adored some heathen divinity. Feast, Christians, feast! You have a right to feast. Go to the house of feasting tomorrow! Celebrate your Savior’s birth. Do not be ashamed to be glad—you have a right to be happy.

Remember that your Master ate butter and honey. Go your way, rejoice tomorrow, but, in your feasting, think of the Man in Bethlehem—let Him have a place in your hearts, give Him the glory

II. The Great Birthday, Luke 2:10: “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

It is clear that if God condescends to be so intimately allied with manhood, He intends to deliver man and to bless him. Incarnation prophesies salvation. Oh, believing Soul, your God cannot mean to curse you.

If you know yourself lost by nature and lost by practice. If you feel sin like a plague at your heart. If evil wearies and worries you. If you have known the burden and the shame of iniquity, then will it be bliss to you even to hear of that Savior whom the Lord has provided!

God’s Omnipotence comes down to man’s feebleness and infinite Majesty stoops to man’s infirmity!

III. A Visit to Bethlehem: Luke 2:15b: “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

“Here,” says this faithful son of Abraham, “is the fulfillment of a thousand prophecies and promises! The hope, the expectation and the joy of my noble ancestry!”

Do you know, my children, that our comforts were purchased at the expense of His sufferings?

IV. Holy Work for Christmas, Luke 2:17-20

Holy wonder will lead you to grateful worship.

That we may go again to the Bethlehem of our spiritual nativity and do our first works, enjoy our first loves and feast with Jesus as we did in the holy, happy, heavenly days of our espousals.

Let us go to Jesus with something of that youthful freshness and excessive delight which was so manifest in us when we looked to Him at first. Let Him be crowned anew by us.

We may well excuse ourselves from the ordinary ways of celebrating this season. And considering ourselves to be “holy work-folk,” we may keep it, after a different sort from other men, in holy contemplation and in blessed service of that gracious God whose unspeakable gift the new-born King is to us.

The mystery of God Incarnate, for our sake bleeding and dying—that we might neither bleed nor die! God Incarnate descending that we might ascend! Wrapped in swaddling cloths that we might be unwrapped of the grave clothes of corruption!

Learning need not be an impediment to grace and may be a fitting weapon in a gracious hand.

Let every man who truly hears the Gospel bid others come to drink of the water of life. This is all the warrant you require for preaching the Gospel according to your ability. It is not every man who has ability to preach the Word. And it is not every man that we should like to hear preach it in the great congregation, for if all were mouth, what a great vacuum the Church would be! Yet every Christian in some method should deliver the glad tidings. Our wise God takes care that liberty of prophesying shall not run to riot, for He does not give efficient pastoral and ministerial gifts to every man. Yet every man, according to his gifts, let him minister!

We set before you, now, another mode of keeping Christmas by holy wonder, admiration, and adoration.

Think not much of yourselves, but do not think too little of your callings. There is no trade which is not sanctified by the Gospel.

You have heard the faults of the preacher—let him mourn them. You have heard his Master’s message. Do you bless God for that? Scarcely will you ever hear a sermon which may not make you sing if you are in a right frame of mind.

V. The First Christmas Carol, Luke 2:14: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

I wish everybody that keeps Christmas this year, would keep it as the angels kept it. There are many persons who, when they talk about keeping Christmas, mean by that the cutting of the bands of their religion for one day in the year, as if Christ were the Lord of misrule, as if the birth of Christ should be celebrated like the orgies of Bacchus. There are some very religious people, that on Christmas would never forget to go to church in the morning; they believe Christmas to be nearly as holy as Sunday, for they reverence the tradition of the elders. Yet their way of spending the rest of the day is very remarkable; for if they see their way straight up stairs to their bed at night, it must be by accident. They would not consider they had kept Christmas in a proper manner, if they did not verge on gluttony and drunkenness. They are many who think Christmas cannot possibly be kept, except there be a great shout of merriment and mirth in the house, and added to that the boisterousness of sin. Now, my brethren, although we, as successors of the Puritans, will not keep the day in any religious sense whatever, attaching nothing more to it than to any other day: believing that every day may be a Christmas for ought we know, and wishing to make every day Christmas, if we can, yet we must try to set an example to others how to behave on that day; and especially since the angels gave glory to God: let us do the same.

VI. The Incarnation and Birth of Christ, Micah 5:2: “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.

VII. God Incarnate, the End of Fear, Luke 2:10a: “And the angel said unto them, Fear not

Adam was afraid and hid himself from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Sin makes miserable cowards of us all!

Now may I come to God since God has come to me.

That holy, filial fear of God, which makes us dread sin and constrains us to be obedient to His command is to be cultivated.

VIII. A Christmas Question, Isaiah 9:6a: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.”

Now, my hearer, have you a fear of God before your eyes—a filial fear, a fear which a child has lest it should grieve its parent? Say have you a child’s love to God? Do you trust to him as your father, your provider, and your friend? Have you in your breast “The spirit of adoption whereby we cry, Abba, Father?”

My favorite of these was the fourth, which looks at how different people responded to the birth of Christ.

I wish whoever had compiled these messages had included the dates they were originally preached.

Spurgeon is always good for a thoughtful read and for bringing things out of passages I hadn’t seen or considered in quite as much depth. I disagreed with him in just a couple of places due to our differences on the implications of election and free will. But overall I enjoyed this and benefited from it very much.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent)

A Perfect Christmas

(Photo courtesy of Bev Lloyd-Roberts at the stock.xchng.)

Most of us have a vision in our minds of the perfect Christmas: family gathered around, a clean and sparkling house, a beautifully adorned Christmas tree with piles of lovingly chosen presents underneath, a feast for the eyes and the table, scents of roasting turkey or ham, pumpkin pies, apple cider, everyone marvelously getting along like the end of a made-for-TV movie.

But what if that’s not reality this year?

What if one member is in prison? Or the hospital? Or overseas or across the country? Or in heaven?

What if a lost job or a major medical expense has led to a depleted bank account and bare cupboards?

What if grief overshadows joy?

Is Christmas then ruined?

Let’s go back to that first Christmas.

Mary and Joseph away from home in a strange city. They did not have a beautifully decorated house: they did not even have a hotel room. The only scents of the season were those of nearby animals. Mary, as a young, first-time mother, did not have the blessing of a modern hospital and sanitary conditions, a skilled nursing staff and childbirth training. Giving birth was painful and messy. If Joseph was her lone attendant, he would have been out of his element helping a woman deliver a baby. Perhaps he was dismayed or frustrated that he could not provide better for her in her moment of need. And after the blessed relief of a healthy child safely born, there was little acknowledgment of this Child. The shepherds, Simeon and Anna, and, later on, the wise men rejoiced in who He was. But soon the young parents would face the danger of a king bent on killing the Child in their care. Mary’s reputation would suffer as many thought her Child was illegitimate. The ominous promise hung over her head that a sword would pierce through Mary’s own soul.

What did Mary and Joseph have then, that lonely, uncomfortable, smelly night? They had the Child of promise. A Child whom they were told to name Jesus, which means “Jehovah saves.” His very name is a promise. He would reconcile them to God by taking care of their greatest need: He would “save His people from their sins.” They had the realization that this Child was the long-awaited and longed-for Messiah, the King, the Son of the Highest. What cause for joy and wonder! They had no idea how it would all work out. But they had the promise, and because of the promise, they had hope.

It’s certainly not wrong to enjoy a decorated tree, presents, wonderful food, and family gathered. But we can celebrate Christmas even all of those elements are missing or less than ideal. We can celebrate in our own hearts and with those around us that same promise, that same hope. Like Mary, we can treasure these things and ponder them in our hearts. Like the shepherds, we can make “known the saying that had been told them concerning this child” and go back to daily lifeglorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them” (Luke 2: 17-20). If all we have is faith in Jesus’ fulfillment of the hope and promise of that first Christmas, we are blessed indeed.

(Revised from the archives)

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Remembering the loved one who has forgotten you

As a person ages, friends and loved ones often stop communicating as much.

Part of the problem is a busy schedule. When I worked in a nursing home ministry in college and then visited my mother-in-law in various facilities, I figured busyness was the primary reason so many residents seemed never to have a visitor.

But now I think perhaps people don’t visit elderly loved ones because they feel it’s futile since the person doesn’t even know them any more.

Dementia is one of the saddest afflictions. It’s heartbreaking when a loved one can’t remember who you are or how you are related.

But I can’t encourage you strongly enough to keep visiting. Why?

Because you remember.

Their biggest need is to know that they are loved and not forgotten. For the few minutes you spend with them, they are receiving personal attention.

We don’t know what they actually remember.

When a loved one can’t process thoughts well, we don’t really know what’s going through their minds. It could be there is a flicker of familiarity, but they can’t express it. Or they might remember, if just for a few moments, that you were there.

Assisted living and nursing home facilities can be lonely places.

Some residents are able-bodied and/or social butterflies, but many sit by themselves. Most of the activities involve bringing the group to the common area rather than doing anything with individuals  Most of these places are overworked and understaffed. We found a few gems in each facility my mother-in-law was in, but too many of the staff were burned out, uncaring, just punching a time card. We observed as they talked to each other over her without ever looking her in the eye or talking directly to her. One aide had eyes glued to the TV as she fed Jim’s mom rather than interacting with her. Can you imagine an existence where most people just handle you or do what’s necessary without a smile or a kind word?

Personal, focused, loving attention is the greatest gift you can give them.

You can’t assume they are well taken-care of.

When you visit a facility and arrange to place your loved one there, you assume the best. The administration sounds competent, the brochures look inviting. But we could tell you dozens of stories from our own experience, not to mention that of others. The residents often can’t speak for themselves. They need advocates to visit them frequently and bring any issues to the management’s attention.

When you do visit, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t ask, “Do you remember . . .” people or situations. John Zeisel calls this “testing” in his book I’m Still Here: A New Philosophy of Alzheimer’s Care. He says such questions just set them up for a test they are sure to fail and can increase anxiety, agitation, and feelings of incompetence.. Sometimes they can remember the distant past more than the recent occurrences, but don’t assume. Just start talking about the person or situation you have in mind. If your loved one remembers, they’ll chime in. Instead of asking, “Do you remember me?” just say who you are. “Hi, Mom! It’s me, Jim, and your grandson son, Jason, and great-grandson, Timothy.” Mention the names but don’t make a big deal about them.
  • “Don’t alter their reality” was the cardinal rule at the nursing home my mother-in-law was in. In our college nursing home ministry, one blind lady spoke as if she lived on a plantation, even encouraging us to pick some flowers. We didn’t know whether to go along or try to bring her back to reality. Now I would know: either go with the flow or try to bring up a different topic of conversation. If they think they are in another state, or their husband is waiting for them at home, or whatever, it only agitates them to say otherwise. When my mother-in-law was in a memory-care unit, we often saw residents get quite upset if they stopped to ask us to take them somewhere, and we said we couldn’t. We learned to say, “I’m just here visiting my mom, but maybe this lady could help you,” and point them to an aide. That was better than saying, “No, I’m sorry, I can’t take you,” and having them get upset, and an aide having to come over and calm them down.
  • Divert or distract rather than arguing. If your loved one starts asking about someone who died, or asks to be taken somewhere they can’t go, or says something that doesn’t make sense, don’t try to “talk sense into them.” Jim’s mom sometimes asked to be taken to her daughter’s house 2,000 miles away. I used to remind her that she had moved to TN. But later on, I’d just say, “We can talk about it when Jim gets home.” She was mostly silent her last two years, but she would still sometimes ask about her sister, who had died long ago. Our caregiver would say something like, “I think she’s still asleep” and then start talking about something else. We tried never to lie to her, but we did redirect the conversation.
  • Have some topics of conversation in mind before you go. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to talk about. Family news is always good. But conversation can sputter after that. This is something I wish I had done better with my mother-in-law. I saw her almost every day, so when she would ask what’s new, sometimes all I could come up with was, “Well . . . I got the laundry done.” She loved news or little interesting tidbits or real-life stories. I wished I had looked for things like that to share with her when I visited. I also wished I had asked her more about her past.
  • Some might be able to play games, put together puzzles, do small crafts. If you have old family photos of people you can’t identity, this is a great time to bring them and ask about them.
  • Be cautious about gifts. Most times, they don’t really need or have room for anything. But if it’s a special occasion and you want to bring something, be aware of their situation. Don’t bring food unless you know they aren’t on any kind of dietary restrictions. And then bring food in a form they can eat (someone sent my mother-in-law a fruit basket, but she had no way to slice or peel any of it. She couldn’t have a knife in her room.) Cut flowers in a vase might be better than a plant no one has time to care for. Some other ideas:

All-occasion greeting cards (if they still send them)
Stationery and stamps (if they can still write)
Pens and pencils
Lotions (some might have skin sensitivities)
Bath items: nice-smelling shampoo, body wash, powder. Avoid bath oils – too slippery
Large-print books, magazines, crossword or word search puzzle books (if   they can still read)
Small individually wrapped chewable candies (if they can have them)
Small packages of cookies (ditto)
Pudding cups
Small throw blankets
Socks (slip-proof, if they are still mobile) and slippers
Magnifying glass
Tissues
Nice nightgowns or pajamas. (or hospital gowns if they are bedridden. We used this place often.)
Small photo albums with pictures of your family. (Big ones are too heavy.)
Pictures colored by a child

If you have a project-based ministry to the elderly in your congregation, please take the items to the person rather than sending them home with a loved one or dropping them off on the porch. The visit means more than the things.

What if you don’t live near your loved one?

Don’t stop communicating because you don’t think it will do any good. One lady who used to write to my mother-in-law would check with me occasionally to ask if I thought it was still worthwhile. I told her I honestly didn’t know if Jim’s mom would know who she was or would remember the note I read five minutes later, but for those few moments, she knew someone cared enough to communicate with her. We’re more inclined to send texts or Facebook greetings, but it’s worth the time to send a personal note to an elderly person who doesn’t have access to those other venues. Sometimes a FaceTime or Skype call can be set up. One of Jim’s brothers used to do this even after Jim’s mom no longer spoke. She could at least see him and his family and would sometimes wave a finger.

What if your loved one is being cared for by a family member?

It still helps to visit or at least communicate for a number of reasons. Your loved one needs to know you still remember and care for them. And it greatly encourages the one caring for them to have the rest of the family still participating. Caregiving can be weighty and lonely, and the interest and care of the rest of the family can be greatly encouraging. By contrast, it’s immensely saddening to have birthdays and Mother’s Days go by without hearing from anyone, even if the loved one doesn’t know what day it is.

It can be hard to visit an elderly loved one.

It takes time and slowing down. It’s hard to acknowledge the effect of years and to know they’re only going to keep declining. Their might be messy or smelly. My mother-in-law was easy to get along with, but some dementia patients are angry or combative. It might be easier to remember them as they were than see them as they are. Most people’s main regret when a loved one dies is that they didn’t spend more time with them. Do all you can while you can to avoid that regret. Even if they don’t remember you, you remember them. I’m not trying to heap guilt on you; I’m trying to lessen it.

Godly love is about giving and isn’t dependent on what the other can do for us.

They don’t have to remember you in order for you to minister to them. Our blessing them comes from:

1) The example of our Lord, who blesses us every day of our lives even though we can never repay Him.

2) Gratefulness because of all our loved ones did for us.

3) Doing unto others as we would want them to do to us. (Matthew 7:12)

It can be especially hard when the relationship has not been good, when issues have never been resolved and there’s no hope of dealing with them now. Some of my friends have exemplified 2 Corinthians 12:15 with their parents: “ And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.Loving like Jesus means loving people even when they don’t “deserve” it. Love costs a great deal sometimes. As we pray to love more, we can ask that our “love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” (Philippians 1:9) and ask God to “make [us] increase and abound in love for one another and for all” (2 Thessalonians 3:12).

I’d love to hear from you about this topic. What have you found helpful when visiting elderly family members?

(I wrote a series of posts from our experience caring for my mother-in-law called Adventures in Elder Care. If you are in a caregiving season of life, you might find something helpful there. A couple of the posts there most related to this one are Am I Doing Any Good? and It’s Not for Nothing.)

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Biblical Thankfulness

We know thanksgiving is not just a day in November, but it is an activity we’re supposed to engage in year-round. But our annual thankful holiday does help turn our thoughts a more grateful direction.

In past years I’ve made lists of what I am thankful for throughout November, either once a day or all on Thanksgiving Day. I usually ended up with pretty much the same items on my list. That’s fine. We should continue to be thankful for what we have every year.

It’s harder to be thankful some years. Health issues cropped up, loved ones are no longer with us, finances have taken a downturn. The Bible speaks of the “sacrifice of praise”: “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” (Hebrews 13:15). I’ve often wondered at that wording. “Sacrifice” hearkens back to some of the OT sacrifices, but here it is applied specifically to praise. I’ve thought that perhaps it’s a sacrifice because we have to turn our attention from ourselves to God. But maybe it’s also a sacrifice because we do it whether or not we “feel” it. Joni Eareckson Tada has said, “To give thanks is not the same as ‘feeling thankful.’ To give thanks in the midst of pain and problems is to take a step of faith based on the command of 1 Thessalonians 5:18: God tells us to give thanks in all circumstances (not just those we can handle or feel on top of). For what things can you give thanks, even while you’re hurting?”

C. S. Lewis said, “We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is ‘good,’ because is it good, if ‘bad’ because it works in us patience, humility, and the contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country.”

One year I did a study on thanks and thanksgiving in the Bible.Just one aspect of it was noticing what people in the Bible thanked God for. It’s perfectly fine to thank God for material blessings and the people He has placed in our lives. But we can expand our thanks to include:

Attributes of God Himself

God’s goodness. “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” (I Chronicles 16:34; Ezra 3:11; Psalm 106:1; 107:1; 118:1, 29; 136)

God’s holiness. “Sing unto the LORD, O ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness.” (Psalm 30:4, KJV)

God’s righteous judgments. At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee because of thy righteous judgments. (Psalm 119: 62, KJV)

God’s greatness. “Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.” (Psalm 95:1-3)

God’s power and reign. “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign.” (Revelation 11:17)

God’s love and wonderful works. “Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!” (Psalm 107:21-2)

What God gives us or does for us

Saving us. “Giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:12-14)

Bearing us.Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation.” (Psalm 68:19)

Victory over death. “Death is swallowed up in victory. ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:54b-57)

Deliverance from mourning. “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” (Psalm 30:11-12)

Comfort: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

Causing us to triumph, making Himself known through us. “Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place.” (2 Corinthians 2:14, KJV)

God’s provision, enough for ourselves plus for giving to others. “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. (2 Corinthians 9:11-12)

God’s inexpressible gift. “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15)

Food. “. . . foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” (1 Timothy 4:3b-5)

Authorities. Really? Yes: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

Other people.

But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you.” (2 Corinthians 8:16)

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers . . .” (Ephesians 1:16)

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints” (Colossians 1:3-4) (See also I Thessalonians 1:1-3; 3:9-10; II Thessalonians 2:13-14.)

Everything.

“Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:20)

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. ” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 1:3)

This is probably just the tip of the iceberg! I’m sure further study would reveal even more things to be thankful for in the Bible.

I’ve been looking for a quote that I thought came from Martin Luther, but I can’t seem to find it with various searches. But it went something like this: God saved me when I didn’t deserve it. I could and should thank Him eternally for just that. Anything else He gives me or does for me after that is just extra blessings. (If you know this quote, please share in the comments. I would be so grateful.) We’re truly “loaded with benefits”: “Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation.” (Psalm 68:19, KJV).

No doubt August Storm had done a thanksgiving study of his own when he composed this hymn in 1891:

Thanks to God for my Redeemer,
Thanks for all Thou dost provide!
Thanks for times now but a memory,
Thanks for Jesus by my side!
Thanks for pleasant, balmy springtime,
Thanks for dark and stormy fall!
Thanks for tears by now forgotten,
Thanks for peace within my soul!

Thanks for prayers that Thou hast answered,
Thanks for what Thou dost deny!
Thanks for storms that I have weathered,
Thanks for all Thou dost supply!
Thanks for pain, and thanks for pleasure,
Thanks for comfort in despair!
Thanks for grace that none can measure,
Thanks for love beyond compare!

Thanks for roses by the wayside,
Thanks for thorns their stems contain!
Thanks for home and thanks for fireside,
Thanks for hope, that sweet refrain!
Thanks for joy and thanks for sorrow,
Thanks for heav’nly peace with Thee!
Thanks for hope in the tomorrow,
Thanks through all eternity!

~ August L. Storm, 1891

What are you most thankful for this year?

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Literary Christmas Reading Challenge 2019

A Literary Christmas: Reading Challenge // inthebookcase.blogspot.comTarissa of In the Bookcase hosts the Literary Christmas Reading Challenge each year in November and December. The basic idea is to read Christmas books! Since I like to read Christmas books in December anyway, this challenge was a nice fit. The details of the challenge are here.

One of the requirements of the challenge is to write a post expressing our intent to participate and sharing what we’ll be reading.

I have these books on hand and hope to read as many of them as possible:

The Joys and Pains of Mother’s Day

I don’t envy pastors trying to prepare messages for Mother’s Day that celebrate, honor, and encourage moms while being sensitive to those for whom Mother’s day might be painful.

On one hand, it’s good to honor mothers. The Bible does. Motherhood has taken a beating by society over the last several years. Moms have a heavy load, often unseen and unappreciated. They need all the encouragement and support they can get.

On the other hand, some dearly want to be mothers, yet God has not granted that request. Mother’s Day only adds to their pain. I appreciate Wendy Alsup’s thought that “God uses both the presence and the absence of children in the lives of His daughters as a primary tool of conforming us to Christ.”

Some moms downplay the hoopla. They would rather have their family appreciate them year-round, not just on a certain designated day. And, true, it doesn’t make sense to disrespect someone every other day and then buy them flowers and a card on Mother’s day. But I always look at special days in the same vein as Thanksgiving. Yes, we’re supposed to be thankful every day, but Thanksgiving reminds us of all we have to be thankful for. Jesus’ resurrection impacts our lives every day, but it receives special focus at Easter. So Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, or someone’s birthday are just opportunities to tell someone you love that you appreciate them. Some do have a lot of hoopla; others prefer low-key observances.

Some moms grieve that their families don’t acknowledge this day at all, and they feel more taken for granted than ever.

I am very blessed that my family goes to a lot of effort to make me feel special on Mother’s Day. But I try to keep in the forefront of my mind that Mother’s Day isn’t about expecting that honor, as much as I love and appreciate it. Mother’s Day was established to promote honor of our own mothers. I wrote a couple of years ago about honoring the moms in my life, women who have influenced me or nurtured me in some way. Still, I do admit it would hurt if no one in my family observed Mother’s Day at all. Erin has some good thoughts along this line.

For others, Mother’s Day is profoundly sad. Some grieve the death of their children, estranged children, mothers who are still here physically but far away mentally or emotionally, mothers who rarely, if ever, showed love, mothers who abandoned them, mothers who have died.

My beloved mother passed away nearly fourteen years ago. My husband’s mother just passed away in January. The lady who was like a second or spiritual mom to me is about to meet her Savior face to face any moment now. Even though I can’t “do” for these special ladies any more, I honor them in my heart, remember their examples, and hold on to the good memories.

For those whose families show their love this day, I wish you joy.

For those who feel like failures, may you be uplifted once again by His grace.

For those who feel abandoned or unloved by parents, may you truly know “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up” (Psalm 27:10).

For those who sorrow, I pray for the peace that passes understanding. May His merciful kindness be for your comfort, according to His word unto you (Psalm 119:76).

See also:

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Share a Link Wednesday, Wise Woman, Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire)

Happy Easter!

Happy-Easter-Resized-Blog

The strife is o’er, the battle done;
The victory of life is won;
The song of triumph has begun: Alleluia!

The powers of death have done their worst;
But Christ their legions hath dispersed;
Let shouts of holy joy outburst: Alleluia!

The three sad days are quickly sped;
He rises glorious from the dead;
All glory to our risen Head! Alleluia!

He closed the yawning gates of hell;
The bars from heaven’s high portals fell;
Let hymns of praise His triumphs tell! Alleluia!

Lord, by the stripes which wounded Thee,
From death’s dread sting Thy servants free,
That we may live, and sing to Thee: Alleluia!

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

~ Author unknown, translated by Francis Potts

(Graphic courtesy of Jenn at Clean and Scentsible)

Praying to love more

Valentine’s Day vies with Christmas as my favorite holiday. I’ve shared before why I think it’s worth celebrating and compiled a list of some of my favorite quotes, songs, etc. for Valentine’s Day.

Of course, everyone is free to celebrate or not celebrate the day according to their own preferences. And though I love the fun and even silly aspects of the day, today I want to take a different tack.

One of my ongoing struggles in my Christian life is learning to love as Jesus did, and my biggest obstacle is my own selfishness.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. John 13:34

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. John 15:12-13

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 14:4-7

Set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 1 Timothy 4:12

Let brotherly love continue. Hebrews 13:1

 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart. 1 Peter 1:22

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8

Whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. 1 John 2:5

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4:11

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 1 John 5:2-3 (This might be a surprising one to some, but Jesus said “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). If we love someone we don’t disregard their words: we take heed and try to keep them. He also said all the law and the prophets hang on to the command to love God and our neighbor.)

I was just discussing with a friend earlier this week how we often hear that Christian love is not just a warm fuzzy feeling: rather, as one professor used to put it, it’s a “self-sacrificing desire to meet the needs of the cherished person.” I think of a mother being awakened at 2 a.m. by her baby’s cries. She might not feel lovey-dovey right at first: in fact she might feel a little irritable. But she knows her baby needs her, and often, some time during their nocturnal meeting, that warm, loving feeling rises up again.

However, the opening of the great love chapter in the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13, warns us that we can make substantial sacrifices without doing so in love.

In my ongoing quest to understand what Christian love is and to grow in it, I compiled Bible verses which specifically spoke of praying to love. I sometimes use them for my own prayers.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:14-19. (It’s interesting to note that right after this prayer comes Paul’s’ declaration, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think . . . “)

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9-11

Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13

Of course, it helps to remember that love is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, and I can only be filled with love as I am filled with Him.

And since we’re to love as God does did, it helps to meditate on how He showed love to us. That would take more study and a different post, but here are a few ways:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 1 John 3:16

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 1 John 4:10

Those verses don’t enlighten me as to the “feeling” part of love, but they show that God loved first, He loved people who were enemies to Him, and He made every provision, at the highest cost to Himself, to redeem them.

The more I think about the myriad ways He has shown His love to me, the more His love will fill me and overflow to others.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. John 15:9

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(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday)

Happy New Year!

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(Graphic from crosscards.com)

A New Year’s Prayer

May God make your year a happy one!
Not by shielding you from all sorrows and pain,
But by strengthening you to bear it, as it comes;
Not by making your path easy,
But by making you sturdy to travel any path;
Not by taking hardships from you,
But by taking fear from your heart;
Not by granting you unbroken sunshine,
But by keeping your face bright, even in the shadows;
Not by making your life always pleasant,
But by showing you when people and their causes need you most,
and by making you anxious to be there to help.
God’s love, peace, hope and joy to you for the year ahead.

~ Author Unknown

Wishing you all God’s best this year!