November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving Challenge

“Let your roots grow down into Him and draw up nourishment from Him. See that you go on growing in the Lord, and become strong and vigorous in the truth you were taught. Let your lives overflow with joy and thanksgiving for all He has done.”  Colossians 2:7 (TLB)

The apostle Paul give us a thanksgiving challenge in Colossians 2:7 when he writes: Let your lives overflow with joy and thanksgiving for all He has done. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  But, Jesus’ experience, as recorded in Luke 17, is an example of how even people who are given a second chance at life sometimes forget to thank the source of all good things.

“Now on His way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee.  As He was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met Him.  They stood at a distance and called in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’”  (Vs. 11-13).

These ten men had one thing in common – their plight was hopeless.  Leprosy was the most dreaded disease of Jesus’ day.  The first sign of leprosy was a death sentence.  Once identified, the leper was forced to leave home, family, and friends and was cast outside the city.  A strict law even stated that people with leprosy couldn’t get within fifty yards of a person who didn’t have the disease.  If they did, they were pelted with rocks and stoned to death.

Can you imagine never being touched again, never feeling the hug of a child, never feeling the arm of a parent around your shoulders, never feeling the embrace of your spouse?  That’s what these ten men had experienced for years.  Some of them had probably had leprosy since they were children, because the disease took so long to progress.  They’d given up hope after they had tried everything and nothing had worked.  But, then, something amazing happened.  They encountered the Carpenter from Nazareth, the One said to be the Messiah.

“He [Jesus] looked at them and said, ‘Go show yourselves to the priests,’ And as they went, their leprosy disappeared.”  (Luke 17:14, NLT).

It was incredibly rare for someone to be healed of leprosy; but, apparently, it had happened before, because a law existed requiring a leper who was healed to go to the priest.  The priest would determine whether or not the leper was cleansed and would be allowed to return to his family, friends, and community.  So, it’s striking that Jesus told these ten lepers to go to the priest before they were healed, as if their health had already been restored.  It was a test of their faith.  Did they really believe Jesus was who He said He was?  They obeyed and passed the test.

Just imagine this ragged bunch of men as they were walking to the temple.   They looked down and saw the blotches on their skin had completely disappeared, and they quickly realized they were healed.  They could go home again!  Such an unbelievable gift was surely celebrated – jumping and shouting and whatever their equivalent to high-fiving might’ve been.  So much incredulous joy and such urgency to get to the priest, to get home, to get their lives back.  But, along the way, one of them stopped and said, “Hey, wait a minute, guys.  I have to go back and thank the One responsible for this.  I have to express my gratitude to the Giver of this incredible gift.”  The other ones might had said, “We have to go to our families.  We haven’t seen them in years.”  But, he must have responded, “Yes, but first I want to go back and thank Jesus.”  Perhaps the most significant part of this entire story occurred next.

“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?  Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”  (Luke 17:15-18).

This guy was from another country, yet he was the only one who came back to thank Jesus.

“Then He [Jesus] said to him, ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well.’” (verse 19).

This man finally had what you and I take for granted each and every day.  He had new life.  He had his health. He would live to see tomorrow.  But, he realized it was a precious gift that God had given him, so he went back to thank Jesus.  The hard truth about the whole story is that he was the only one.  Out of ten, he was the only one who expressed gratitude.  He went back and threw himself at Christ’s feet.

Thanksgiving has the power to change us completely. This former leper was not just physically healed; he was also spiritually healed.  There is power in thanksgiving to heal us spiritually, emotionally, and relationally.  An attitude of gratitude opens up our hearts to God, enabling us to really see the world the way it is, to experience life to its fullest and enjoy each breath.  That’s the power of thankfulness, but you can almost hear the hurt in Jesus’ heart as He asked three questions:  Weren’t there ten?  Where are the other nine?  Did only one come back to thank Me?

Now, before we judge the nine who didn’t come back to thank Jesus too harshly, we need to look at our own lives.  What is it about our human hearts that allows us to take so many things for granted?  The very thing we desperately want, once we get it, we don’t thank God for.  How often do we get in a jam and plead with God to provide what we need?  “God, I’ll do anything,” we say.  “Just help me this one time, and I’m yours for the rest of my life.”  When He does provide, even if it’s not always exactly what we want when we want it, we neglect to thank Him.

On that day, ten men received a gift, but only one unwrapped it.  Ten people received life that day, but only one realized there was more to his life than his time on earth.  This is what gratitude does – it changes you.  It opens your heart to God so you can experience all the blessings He has for you.