Monday, February 27, 2012

Your Faith Has Made You Well!

Just a reminder that last week, if it wasn’t clear to you, it became clear to me that sometimes, as Christians, we don’t truly see God’s hand in the giving of all we’ve received.  The story of the ten lepers made that abundantly obvious.  Who turned back?  The Samaritan!  The foreigner!  Where were the “religious” ones?  The temple-goers?  The God-fearers?  The ones who should have seen God in the miracle of the moment?  They were on their way to the priest, excited to be lawful again.  Maybe they were thankful, but they were not deeply grateful.  There’s a difference. 

...And there’s more to this story.  As the Samaritan recognized his healing had to have come from the God of the Universe, he offered a outward and visible sign of his inner blessing.  That’s the Oxford dictionary’s meaning for the word Eucharist“Eucharisteo” is the Greek word for giving thanks.  I love that.  It says when we express deep gratitude to the Father of Lights from whom every good gift originates, we are offering to him a sacrament of love (read James 1:17).

...And there’s even more to the story.  When this foreigner turned back to offer his eucharisteo to Jesus, God-in-flesh extended his great gift.  And (Jesus) said to him, “Rise, and go your way; your faith has made you well (Luke 17:19).”  Wait a minute, wasn’t the man already well?  Hadn’t he already been healed?  Outwardly, yes.  But again, we must look at the deeper Greek meaning (can you tell I love word studies?).  This word means to be made safe, to protect, to deliver, to heal, or to make whole.  It is used specifically of salvation from eternal death, sin, punishment and the misery that follows the sin.  The other nine were healed to die again.  The one who returned to give thanks recognized Jesus as God.  This belief healed him unto salvation.  He not only had a healed body, but his spirit and soul (mind, will, emotions) were made whole, as well.  He was no longer leprous in skin, and he was no longer leprous of heart.  He was a new creation inside and out. 

When the Samaritan walked away from Jesus, he was no longer a foreigner.  This man was in, no longer did the dividing wall separate him from God, for, now, he was a child of the promise.  No longer an outcast, he was brought near (read Ephesians 2). 

Then with an exclamation mark, Jesus turned back to the Pharisees in the midst saying, “Behold...the Kingdom of God is in your midst (vs. 21)....because they missed it!  They didn’t see that before their eyes the Kingdom was being made of grateful lepers saved to wholeness and eternal life. 

Lessons to take away: 
There’s so much more to Christianity than just being lawful...has your faith made you well -emotionally, mentally, where your decision-making is concerned, but more importantly - spiritually?

We can’t out-thank Jesus. The more we offer him true eucharisteo, the more he gives (and we can't out-give him either)...  

As we give him thanks, the Kingdom of God enters our midst... Can you see it?  Do you see HIM?  He's amazing!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Open My Eyes

Where better to turn on the journey for an attitude of gratitude, than to explore the road on the border between Samaria and Galilee and see firsthand, Jesus’ interaction with a group of ten lepers.  This was an unlikely group of people comprised of both Galileans and a Samaritan.  Even though “nothing good came out of Galilee,” Samaritans were despicable.  Not even a Galilean would have anything to do with a Samaritan.  But, leprosy held no prejudices, and disease like this had a tendency to unite the unlikely. 

I can’t imagine the toll leprosy took on a human: the pain, the emotional tsunami, the despair, the loneliness, the poverty, the confusion, the condemnation, the rejection...  Lepers were the untouchable, the unclean, the excluded, the ignored, and the “outcast.”  As hard as that had to be, here’s the “doozy”:  Leprosy was illegal. Yeah, it was “against the law” to be leprous. Seriously. I can’t conceive of being struck with a disease that I could do nothing about and immediately declared “GUILTY (as if I had committed a crime)!”  How do I know?  In verse 14, of chapter 17 (Luke’s gospel), these words are used “they were cleansed.”  The Greek word, which we translate cleansed, meant “made clean,” but it came from a root word that literally implied that they were “made lawful.”  You can’t be made lawful, unless you are first and foremost lawless.  Being a leper meant you were all of the above.  These men needed MERCY - in a BIG WAY!

So, they came to Jesus as he passed through the region. Hoping against hope...  Dreaming of possibilities... Minds whirling with the “what ifs...”  Oh, the compassion of Jesus!  He took one look at them, and said, “Go... to the priests.”  Please take note of this fact:  Jesus said nothing about being healed.  At that very moment the ten saw no evidence of their healing, but they must have had some element of faith, because they went.  “And it came about as they were going; they were cleansed (vs. 14).” 

Healing often comes that way – as we are going, and in spite of how we feel, regardless of what we see, and apart from what we think we know.  As we listen to the voice of Jesus, the possible becomes real. When did they see their healing?  For one, it appears immediate.  The others may have noticed, but didn’t really have their eyes fully opened.  If they had, all ten would have turned back in gratitude.  As it was, only one of the ten, in the midst of ecstatic, mind-blowing, life-altering transformation came back to Jesus, glorifying God with a loud voice...

...and he fell on his face at his feet giving thanks to Him, and he was a Samaritan (vs 16).

This one verse tells me a lot.  The more we recognize our condition without Jesus’ touch, the more grateful we are when we receive it.  The Samaritan was doubly outcast.  For the Jews in the group, there was a little element of “entitlement.”  Secondly, what does it say in general about our ability to be genuinely thankful?  Could it be that only 10% of us truly have our eyes fully opened to our blessings?  It’s caused me to examine myself...and as George Herbert once prayed, so I echo, “Lord, you have given me so many blessings, now I ask for one more thing...a heart of gratitude.”  Open my eyes, Lord, make me fully thankful!  May it be so – Amen & Amen!

Monday, February 13, 2012

In His Presence

I found myself reflecting this week on a season of near revival in the church I attended so long ago.  I remembered the desire to be in the building, for long hours, way into the night (I, now, have deep admiration for the nursery workers), because none of us wanted to miss the possibility that God just might step down in full glory.  Not only did we show up on Sunday morning and Sunday night, but I remember coming to church, and being excited about going, at very random times.  What a season of worship – real worship, heart rending praise and worship.  What a time of vulnerability, brokenness, confession, and restoration.  What sharing of testimonies of thanksgiving.   There is no question that God’s Spirit was present.  I had never sensed anything like it, nor have I since.  In many ways, I cannot describe or define what took place.  It was, in the true sense of an over-used word, AWESOME!

Yet, as I’ve pondered the “why” of that time, two key pieces stand out.  The first key piece could only be explained as being in an environment of grace that gave us permission to be real and order to find absolute forgiveness and renewal.  The second key piece I attribute to grateful hearts.  Again, as I’ve reflected, some key passages spill into my thoughts. 

Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving (Psalm 95:2).

Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise.  Give thanks to Him... (Psalm 100:4)

In 2 Samuel 6, King David ushered in the presence of the Lord, as represented by the Ark of the Covenant, with jubilant, unashamed, thanksgiving.

In 2 Chronicles 5, just prior to the “glory of the Lord” filling the newly constructed temple, we find the people of God sacrificing, praising, and giving thanks...

There’s a definite theme that precedes the revealed presence of God in the lives of His people:  THANKSGIVING.

Life Lesson – short and sweet:  The surest way to usher myself into the revealed presence of God is in heartfelt celebration, offering up a sacrifice of thanksgiving.

...and, there is nothing I want more than to sense his nearness! 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Perpetual Broken-heartedness

This morning, I picked up the little book of Puritan Prayers, Valley of Vision. I have loved the prayers in this book!  However, today I stopped after reading these words:  “Give me perpetual broken-heartedness.  Keep me always clinging to Thy cross.” 
Certainly you understand why I quit reading.  Perpetual broken-heartedness?  Really?  Forgive my lack of spirituality, but I don’t really want to sign up for this.  I’ll make some justification in my defense.
This past fall, I went to see my doctor (hurray for insurance!), who turned around and sent me to the E.R.  I had been experiencing a little pressure in my chest and after a preliminary EKG, my doc thought I might be on the verge of a heart attack.  The good news is that following 36-hours in the hospital (by the way, the secret to quick attention in an ER is to complain of chest pains) they released me with a normally functioning, and beating, heart.  However, the uncomfortable tightness remained, so I had to see a cardiologist for more testing.  Again – bottom line is that while the inner workings of my heart looked great (other than my potassium levels being a bit low, which can mimic a heart attack), physically I was fine.  (There is a “but” to follow...) BUT, after exploring life-events of my past three years (several significant events, by the way), my cardiologist explained that Mayo has recently identified what they term BHS:  broken-heart syndrome.   You can actually Google this term, if you don’t believe me.  BHS is real.  It is uncomfortable.  It causes me to be short of breath.  I don’t like who I am and how I react when I don’t feel well.  Daily, I’m very aware life isn’t “normal” where my health is concerned; but, it will eventually go away on its own.  Over the last four months, I have requested from the Lord (pretty regularly) to take it away.
So, when I read the words of the above prayer, there is a very personal slant on them.  I don’t want this perpetual syndrome.  My focus landed on that first sentence, and I forced my mind to look at the part "B":  Keep me always clinging to Thy cross.  Those words remind me of David’s wordsIt was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your instructions (Ps 119:71)...  There is no question in my mind, the “good” of my affliction is exactly that I have not only clung to the cross of Christ – the symbol of his great grace and mercy –  but I have searched and found his words to be the source of my daily strength and hope.  So, in spite of my prayers for deliverance, I see a higher good coming out of the broken-heart:  cross-clinging-dependence.  In my journey toward gratitude, this is reason enough for the giving of thanks – yes, even for the very thing that is most uncomfortable. 
If so, then to the cross I choose to cling - for there is my true source of full life, even in the face of my weakness.  There at the cross, in the cross, for the cross, and under the cross is some purpose complete, not for my sake, but His.
To keep me from becoming conceited...there was given me a thorn in the flesh...three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  This is why, for Chris’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties...
2 Cor. 12:7-10