Morning service from Immanuel Baptist Church in Shawnee, OK from November 27th, 2011.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving, I’d like to share a few thoughts from one of the most poignant passages in Scripture on the subject of giving thanks- Luke 17:11-19- the account of Jesus healing ten lepers and only one returning to thank the Lord. Take a moment to read that text and consider these thoughts.
There are many reasons we forget to be thankful. For some, it’s simply selfishness. For others, our forgetfulness stems from familiarity. We get so used to the blessings of God that we lose the appreciation we have for Him and what He does for us daily. I have heard from those who have visited Yellowstone that the busboys clear the tables at Old Faithful Inn without even looking up at the geyser. Their familiarity with it has caused them to lose sight of the geyser’s grandeur.
Why nine of the lepers failed to give Jesus thanks for the grandeur of the miracle He did for them will never be known. Perhaps it was for reasons I’ve just stated that they, and we, tend to be forgetful. But here are some simple points we can learn from this passage.
The one least likely to be thankful was thankful (vv.16-17)
Samaritans and Jews hated each other. The fact that the one least likely to remember to give thanks is really an indictment on those of us who should know better. And if there is anyone who should never forget to be thankful to God it is those of us who have been saved by His marvelous grace and live with His tangible blessings every day.
We should be thankful because of the tremendous opportunity and access we have to the gospel. We have multiple Bibles in our possession, freedom to attend church and listen to spiritual broadcasting, and never worry that the authorities are looking over our shoulder. Much of the world does not enjoy these benefits. Like the geyser at Yellowstone, we tend to get used to these privileges and forget to be thankful.
Another reason we should never be the ones to forget giving thanks is the physical blessing we enjoy as Americans. If the world were reduced to a city of 100 inhabitants, it would look like this:
80 would live in substandard housing
50 would be malnourished and 1 at the point of death
39 would lack access to improved sanitation
24 would have no electricity
8 would have access to the internet
5 would control 32% of the world’s wealth and all 5 would be Americans
48 would live on less than $2 US dollars a day
20 would live on less than $1 US dollar a day
Given what you have, do these numbers cause you to be thankful? Jesus asks, “There were ten. Where are the other nine?” The math doesn’t add up. When we have been blessed by Jesus and consider what we truly have in Him and from Him, we have to live our lives in the framework of thanksgiving. I don’t know who wrote this poem, but its truthfulness applies well:
Today upon a bus, I saw a lovely girl with golden hair; I envied her- she seemed so happy, and how I wished I were so fair; When suddenly she rose to leave, I saw her hobble down the aisle; she had one foot and used a crutch, but as she passed, a smile. Oh God, forgive me when I whine, I have two feet the world is mine.
And when I stopped to buy some sweets, the lad who served me had such charm; he seemed to radiate good cheer, his manner was so kind and warm; I said, “It’s nice to deal with you, such courtesy I seldom find”; he turned and said, “Oh, thank you sir.” And then I saw that he was blind. Oh, God, forgive me when I whine, I have two eyes, the world is mine.
Then, when walking down the street, I saw a child with eyes of blue; he stood and watched the others play, it seemed he knew not what to do; I stopped a moment, then I said, “Why don’t you join the others, dear?” He looked ahead without a word, and then I knew he could not hear. Oh God, forgive me when I whine, I have two ears, the world is mine.
With feet to take me where I’d go; with eyes to see the sunsets glow, with ears to hear what I would know. I am blessed indeed. The world is mine; oh, God, forgive me when I whine.
Being thankful is good for us becuase it helps us glorify God (v.18)
When we forget to give thanks it builds within us a self-reliance that causes us to think that what we have is a result of what we have done. We have nothing that God hasn’t given us. The Masai tribe in East Africa express thanks in this way- They bow, put their heads on the ground, and say, “My head is in the dirt.” Thanksgiving is an act of humility. Another African tribe, to say thanks to someone who did them a favor, sits in front of the person’s hut and says, “I sit on the ground before you.” God does good things for us and our response should be that we give Him our time and our lives.
Don’t forget the greatest blessing is spiritual in nature (v.19)
Some believe the nine received physical healing, and this one leper who returned received spiritual and physical healing. By far the greatest gift we can ever receive from Jesus is not material in nature, but salvation and the opportunity to be in relationship with Him through His Son Jesus Christ.
A pastor once led a worship service on the island of Tobago in a leper colony. They asked if there were any particular songs they would like to sing. A woman turned to the pastor. She had no nose or ears. She lifted a fingerless hand and asked to sing, “Count Your Many Blessings.” The one least likely to give thanks, did just that. If there is anyone who should be giving thanks, it is us. Let’s never forget that.
Morning service from Immanuel Baptist Church in Shawnee, OK from November 20th, 2011.
In my office, I have one of those buttons from Staples that says, “That was easy!” It’s mostly a joke I have with our church staff since most weeks we are dealing with issues and logistics that are far from easy to solve. I thought about this button the other day while reading a new book by Scot McKnight titled “The King Jesus Gospel.” Although I don’t agree with all of McKnight’s findings or terminology, I think he makes a powerful and important point whereby the “That was easy” catchphrase applies. In essence, McKnight denounces what he calls the “salvation” culture in evangelicalism today. I would prefer he use the word “decision” culture. Regardless of the nomenclature, he is addressing what all of us would call “easy believism” in the church.
Unfortunately, many Christians today base whether or not a person is “saved,” “right with God,” or “going to heaven” solely on whether or not they said the “sinner’s prayer.” I have seen this at times when I have been asked to conduct a funeral for someone. My first question to the family is if the deceased was a follower of Jesus. I have been told something to the effect of, “Oh, Uncle Jim pretty much lived an idolatrous, debaucherous life, but when he was 14 he prayed at church camp to accept Jesus so I know he’s in heaven.” Tragically, such a belief doesn’t seem to line up with the teaching of Jesus or the authors of the New Testament. Nowhere in the Bible do we see someone praying what we would identify as the sinner’s prayer. Nor, do we see such terminology as “Ask Jesus into your heart.” Now, please don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with the sinner’s prayer. A person’s salvation begins with an understanding of their sinfulness, the redemption of Christ through His substitutionary death on the cross, and the utter inability of any of us to save ourselves. This is many times articulated through a prayer.
The problem is when we treat the sinner’s prayer as though it were some form of fire insurance keeping us out of hell. Sadly, we have fostered a culture within the church that says if you go through certain motions- walk an aisle, say a prayer, sign a card, and get wet in the baptistery then you are safe from an eternity of damnation. What you do after that is optional. Thus, the sinner’s prayer and “decision” you have made punches your ticket to heaven.
Few things could be further from what Jesus taught. I have profoundly learned this as I have preached through the Gospel of Mark this year. Two great lessons have stood out to me from preaching through Mark. One, Jesus showed incredible patience and love to his disciples who at times could be knotheads beyond description. This challenges me when I want to get frustrated with people. Two, Jesus powerfully condemned the religious establishment of his day in how it had adulterated a true understanding of what it means to be right with God. What I have learned is that our “decision” culture is eerily similar to the religionists of Jesus’ day.
Take for example Jesus cleansing the Temple in Mark 11:15-19. Jesus says they have turned the house of God into a “den of robbers.” He is clearly quoting from Jer. 7:9-11- “Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’- only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes?” Notice what God says here- He is condemning the practice of the people who live egregiously sinful lives then go through the empty, external rituals of animal sacrifice and burning incense in the Temple and think that God was pleased with them! The people were living for their sinful appetites, but thinking they were in the clear with God because of some outward rituals.
This sounds like us today. Too many people have said a prayer and signed a card and then never gave God a second thought. Yet, they think they are going to heaven because they have performed the ritual of the prayer, card, and baptism. Many in our day (as the Jews in Jesus’ day) are living double lives: the life we want to live in the world and the life we live the few times we show up at church. We must realize that such a double life, and trying to live for two masters, will always result in frustration in this life and doom in the next.
Back to the McKnight book I’m reading. His point is principally that what makes us right with God is not simply because we have said a prayer, but because our lives are surrendered to Jesus Christ as our King (hence McKnight likes the term “King” for Jesus rather than “Savior”). Life in Christ can begin with a prayer of confession and surrender to Jesus as Lord, but that is only the beginning of a life that is radically transformed to live for King Jesus and not king self. True followers of Jesus are willing subjects of the King whose lives are given in obedience and servanthood. I’m not advocating works righteousness here. We are not saved because we do a bunch of stuff for the King. That’s really no different than what I have been arguing against in this post, not to mention an affront to the teaching of Scripture. No, I am saved wholly by God’s gracious gift of salvation given to me on the basis of Christ’s merits in His life, the cross and resurrection. My acknowledgment of this results in the joyful surrender of my life to His lordship.
“That was easy” is a phrase we should never connect with salvation or the gospel. It wasn’t easy for Jesus to provide our redemption. Neither is salvation as easy as saying a prayer and then doing whatever you want. The cost is high to follow Jesus- refusing to be your own king and following the King of Kings who calls us to view life differently than the world. Being His servant is not easy, but very much worth it!
Morning service from Immanuel Baptist Church in Shawnee, OK from November 13th, 2011.
Morning service from Immanuel Baptist Church in Shawnee, OK from November 6th, 2011.