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Grace and Mercy

The Ten Lepers: Grace, Mercy, and Thanksgiving

Have you ever given someone a gift and received no letter or word of gratitude in return? While I don’t believe in keeping score, I can indeed remember a few instances where I was a little taken back by the lack of thankfulness for a gift that I had given someone. In fact, if you are anything like me, you might have even wondered, did they get the gift and if they did, did they not like it? The reality is,” thank you” is so easy to say, yet often not expressed nearly enough.

There is a fascinating story in the Bible that leaves me with more questions than answers each time that I read it. This rather short passage is packed with so much value and so many lessons to be learned. I am referring to the story where in Luke where Jesus healed the ten lepers,

As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us! ”When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:12-19)

There is truly a lot of information to unpack in these eight verses. But first, I would like to preface my initial question. Imagine with me, for a moment, that instead of giving a gift out of the goodness of your heart, the person who was celebrating the occasion actually asked you for something specific. For instance, a friend says, “I would love some nice china for my wedding.” Let’s pretend that you honored the couples’ wish and bought them that expensive china they had asked for. In fact, it wasn’t really necessarily your intention, you might have just as well gone with a different kitchen item, but the direct ask made you change your course of action. Now, would your level of frustration rise when weeks turned into months and no mention of a “thank you” had been uttered?

Jesus was a busy man and Scripture reminds us that he was going to yet another village while performing miracles on his way to the heart of Jerusalem. I imagine Jesus was preparing for His day by sharing stories with his disciples when all of a sudden a man starts to yell out (if this was translated it would be more of a cry of agony) for pity. Notice the man didn’t ask for healing, he asked for pity. Does this strike anyone else as a little bizarre? Clearly, there was an immediate need to address. Here’s what is important to understand about leprosy in order to get the full impact of the story. Leprosy was a permanent and external condition of shame because it was seen all over someone’s skin. Lepers could not hide their illness from the community, so they were shunned and forced to live apart because many people would have been afraid that they could catch this awful disease. Though leprosy was not fatal, studies show that it could affect a person’s voice and vision, as well as the skin, nose, toes, and fingers. Additionally, the leper’s physical condition would continue to deteriorate during his or her lifetime. Because lepers could not participate in worship, most people believed that the disease was due to sins that individual had committed. Why? The Jewish people couldn’t imagine a worse torment than not being able to worship God – for it was the most holy act. In short, leprosy was considered a type of sin. It was considered by the Jews to be a direct judgment of God. Some examples in the scriptures include Miriam (Numbers 12), Gehazi (2 Kings 5:20-27), and Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:19-21). Can you imagine waking up one morning with an irritated itch that rapidly multiplied throughout your entire body? Next thing you know, you are forever shamed with the title of ‘leper’ and are an outcast, removed from all of your family and friends. You are in tremendous emotional and physical pain, while being told that God is angry at you. Your situation is completely hopeless. In fact, you must call out “unclean, unclean,” every time you walk on opposite sides of the pathway. As you do this as a warning to others, you watch all the people stare and scurry.

The leper who cried out to Jesus wanted pity because he probably felt that this was the best case scenario for him – remember the disease was incurable. However, Jesus knew exactly what was needed: faith. This is why Jesus tells the men to go to the priest. In this time, this would have been forbidden because unholy beings could not enter or be next to what was considered holy. The man who yelled in agony could have argued back, “how can I go where I am not permitted?” Yet, we don’t see evidence of this. Instead we see obedience and a heart of surrender as the entire pack of misfits takes just a few steps in the direction Jesus commanded. As they are obeying, they physically watch their dead and diseased skin heal before their very eyes. This immediate miracle radically transforms the broken ten men into new, whole beings.

This story is a phenomenal account of God’s grace. Jesus, the ultimate Father of love, gives no condescending sermon or speech; he simply tests their faith and responds with the mercy they requested. I wish what happened next was what we would have expected – all ten men fall at the feet of Jesus. However, there is only one man who returns. Only 1/10th responded with a “thank you.” As for the other nine, it is the ultimate slap in the face. Surely these men were excited, but where were they in such a hurry to get to? Wasn’t every bit of grace they would have ever needed in the exact spot where Jesus healed them? The story tells us that it was the Samaritan, the foreigner and the least likely to return, who actually did. Samaritans were enemies of the Jews, and this man was previously not a worshipper of the one true God. Ironically, he was the one who responded in the most naturally unnatural way. You see, in this circumstance, it is a natural response to worship and thank God for all He has done even if you grew up knowing very little about worship. In short, encountering God produces a desire to worship. However, there were nine others and I am just as amazed as Jesus when He asked where the others had gone? The story concludes with the one who came back made well. Is anyone else as little confused, weren’t they all healed?

We will never know the story of the other nine. We will never know how their lives changed or what they said about their healing. We will never know if they lived in regret for never returning with thanks. We will never know so much of what occurred before and after this small passage. Yet, we can be left impacted by what we do know. We know that God honors the cries of our hearts when we respond in faith. In this instance, He responded immediately with healing, but this is not always the case. However, obedience is not optional regardless of the circumstance. Jesus always asks for our hearts before He can get to the physical or emotional need. Yet, even with our hearts turned towards Him and a miracle granted, not everyone worships. In this truth lies the greatest tragedy because we were made to worship. We must remember that our thanks are not nearly as costly as what God has done for us. We must, in all things, give praise to the rightful owner.

All ten lepers were physically healed but only one was made well. Jesus always gives more to the worshipper. The reality is, when we worship we receive the full outpouring of what God is doing in our lives. We can be granted our requests but often times, there is so much more Jesus wants to give. Yet, we leave shorthanded because we forget the simple words of “thank you” which are directly linked to lips of praise. My desire, as I pray it is yours, is to remember the lepers when our lives look hopeless. I chose to aim to remember the nine who forgot the most important thing they would have ever done and the one who knew the value of a true “thank you.” May we always be the foreigner who remembers what God did when we needed His mercy the most.

 

Finding Joy

Finding Joy

It’s amazing to me how joy shows up in unlikely places. You can meet a working woman lavished in designer clothes and fancy luxury cars while living in a mansion for a home and see her unfortunate misery. In the same light, you can see a middle aged man with a family of six having very little to eat and only a small cabin, all the while living with blistered hands from working all day and yet, find an unspeakable joy. Finding joy is not based in money, status, or emotion – it is based on a love that cannot help but overflow.

Mother Teresa once stated, “Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” Still, I wonder as Christians if our joy is contagious. Could your joy capture a person’s heart? Perhaps, you can’t even fathom others seeing joy in you because you can’t be sure that true joy will ever find you again. Friend, it is time you stop waiting and start allowing it to penetrate your soul by the revelation that love is with you.

As I was pondering the most joyful people I knew, I noticed a direct correlation between their ability to receive and give love.  Love produces true joy. I also looked at the most joyous Biblical characters and instantly, David came to mind. David, the Psalmist, was filled with joy. He wrote and sang about it daily. His life was far from glamorous, as he took shelter amidst rocky caves and foreign pastures, but his joy was undeniable. He didn’t wait until the promise of a kingship was fulfilled and he was lavished in royalty, a crown placed upon his head. He lived a life of joy even as he feared for his life. You see, I believe that a life of worship (not just musical worship) produces joy. The reality is, our need to worship comes because of our exposure of Jesus’ love – we have no reason not to live in a constant state of joy because when we understand how deeply we are loved by God Himself.

How tragic it would be to allow one second of Jesus horrific pain on the cross to produce, in us, a moment’s question of His love for us?

Since we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that His love for us is always faithful and unending, should not joy be our ultimate outcome? David understood this even when his circumstances could render everything else miserable; he still decided to have joy. I imagine David’s voice accompanied by the lyre singing,

“My lips will shout for joy when I sing praises to You-I whom You have delivered.” (Psalm 71:23)

“For You make me glad by your deeds, Lord, I sing for joy at what Your hands have done. How great are Your works, Lord, how profound your thoughts.” (Psalm 92:4-5).

“Our mouths are filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’ The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” (Psalm 126:2-3)

Joy resonated over David not because he was a happy-go-lucky kind of guy, but because he chose to possess joy each and every morning.

If you are looking for the kind of joy that David was known for, start by recognizing God’s love. The longer we walk with Christ, the more we can become physically comfortable to His all-consuming love.

Picture with me for a moment that you were walking the street last week and a car came racing by at lightning speeds. At the very last moment, a person, whom you had never met, pushed you out of the way and used his body as a shield against the car. The next thing you remember is standing, in shock, watching him bleed out on the pavement while you had not a scratch on your body. Would this image ever leave you? Would you not spend the rest of your life with a new perspective? God’s love for us is much greater than this. We cursed him with our disobedience and He decided that His reaction would be forgiveness – taking on our punishment on Himself. This love merits joy. This love can only be met with a heart that displays delight. This love, when fully received, harvests a spirit of gladness. Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice, for His love for you should yield pure joy like a magnet to others, always catching many souls.

 

Prayers of Thanksgiving

Prayers of Thanksgiving

What do your prayers sound like? Do they follow a pretty regular format? Have you ever stopped to listen to how you pray and the types of prayers you lift up from day to day?

I want to challenge you to do just that. You see, I took on this exact exercise a few years back and it really made me stop and think about what a healthy prayer life looks like. The fact is, the first thing I realized was that a majority of my time spent in prayer was focused primarily on petition. It was about what I needed, or what those around me needed, and what I quickly realized was… I rarely, if ever, stopped to simply thank God for all he had and would do for me.

When I realized this, I dedicated myself to digging into scripture, studying all kinds of passages on prayer. I studied the Lord’s prayer and the example Jesus gave us. I looked at David and the incredible prayer warrior He must have been. The exercise really stretched me and today I can tell you it has improved my prayer life ten-fold. However, the outcome that has proved to be the most refreshing out of the entire experience was a new-found focus on always coming before the Lord with thanksgiving. In Psalm 100:4-5a it states,

“Give thanks as you enter the gates of his temple. Give praise as you enter its courtyards. Give thanks to him and praise his name. The LORD is good. His faithful love continues forever.”

What a privilege it is that we have the opportunity to actually enter into the real, and metaphorical, gates of His temple. What a privilege it is to spend time in His courtyards. What a privilege it is that we not only know Him, but that we can praise Him with full adoration whenever we please because He is indeed faithful and His love does endure forever. When you pray, do you thank the Lord for what He did 2000 years ago on the cross? Do you thank Him for what he did 20 minutes ago, simply giving you the breath of life? Do you thank Him for everything in between? It’s so easy to get caught up in the pain and struggles of our everyday lives. If we aren’t tending towards anger over our circumstances, we certainly are more focused on getting whatever ails us changed. Instead, Philippians 4:6 challenges us to enter into our prayer life with a different kind of mindset,

“Don’t worry about anything. Instead, tell God about everything. Ask and pray. Give thanks to him.”

What would happen if instead of simply coming in petition for our needs, or the needs of others, we made a drastic decision – we decided that we would open every prayer with a time dedicated to thanking God for whatever He puts upon your heart? Do you think it would change your prayer life? Or might it even change your demeanor all together? Years ago I decided to do just that and I can be a testimony of how life-altering it is to really worship the Lord through prayers of thanksgiving. It has drawn me closer to Him and it has improved my everyday outlook as I am now forced to see not only the bad in my life, but how His good and faithful love shows up all the time. Isaiah 12:4b says,

“Give thanks to the LORD. Worship him. Tell the nations what he has done. Announce how honored he is.”

How honored he is…. what a beautiful and bold statement. Today I challenge you today to make a decision to bring more thanksgiving into your prayer life and begin honoring Him more on a regular basis. Stop and take a look at how He is impacting you each and everyday – thank Him for his wonderful grace and, If nothing else, thank Him for all He did for you upon the cross some 2000 years ago. And whether you realize you haven’t been praising God at all as you pray, or like myself you have made a conscience effort to be thankful, we can ALWAYS show Him more adoration. So today – stop, commit, and pray – make a determination that your prayers will continue to show God more glory and be marked by a thankful spirit – praising Him always.

 

Biblical Thanksgiving

Biblical Thanksgiving

I preached on the topic of thanksgiving over the weekend, for obvious reasons, but also because I live near the towns in central Illinois that were affected by last weekend’s tornados. It seemed appropriate to deal somewhat more seriously with what we value in light of so many people, not just near home, but abroad as well, lacking tangible reasons to give thanks. I thought I would share some of these thoughts with you here and they start with when Jesus preaches to the crowd during His Sermon on the Mount. In this Biblical account, He employs an interesting, value-shifting idea.

“Happy are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God. Happy are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Happy are you who weep now, for you will laugh” (Luke 6:20-21).

While we tend to glaze over such words, marking them as simply one of Jesus’s many kind platitudes, what strikes me upon closer inspection is the word Jesus uses to mean “happy.” The Greek word here is makarios (ma-ka-ree-aus), which means “happy” or “blessed.” However, as is the case with other English words when translated from Greek, there is more than one option that could have been used.

Another Greek word commonly translated “happy” is eudaimonia (ei-you-diemon- ee-uh). This notion of happiness is most commonly what we would associate with our notions of thankfulness; in other contexts eudaimoina can be translated as fulfilled or flourishing. On our thanksgiving holiday we name the areas of our life in which we feel fulfilled and offer up our thanks, but Jesus in His Beatitudes chooses not fulfillment as a core value in His Kingdom, but rather pure happiness (makarios) unattached to circumstances.

In a similar parable in Luke 12:14-21 Jesus describes a man who tears down his barns in order to build bigger ones in order to accommodate his recent good fortune (an eudaimonistic reason for thanksgiving to be sure). However, in the story, the man dies the night his new barns are completed, leaving his vast surplus to no one. Jesus concludes this story by saying in verse 21 that the man was rich everywhere but “toward God”.

Happiness in God’s economy is not related to the ways we flourish or feel fulfilled; indeed, the crowd to which Jesus was preaching on the “Mount” had no earthly reason to be thankful… but they were, as described by Jesus, happy because of their relationship to Jesus. In this life momentary eudaimonia may come and go, but Jesus promises to be our eternal source of makarios – a never-ending joy that comes only from closeness to God through His Son Jesus.

What are your thoughts? What does thankfulness mean to you and, if you have a relationship with Jesus, how has that relationship formed your values and notions of thanksgiving? I’d love for you to leave a comment below and share your thoughts.