Giving thanks – Luke 17:11-19

11 On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance 13 and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” 14 When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 16 and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

Stopping to give thanks for our blessings is a simple thing to do, but at the same time is such an important lesson.  In the story above, only one out of ten did so.  Presumably the other nine did go on to show themselves to the priests, thereby obeying the command of Jesus and fulfilling the letter of the law.  That’s not bad, but returning first while praising God with a loud voice was even better.  Jesus remarks how odd it is that they didn’t all return together.

But isn’t that just like us sometimes?  We perform our duties, we get the job done, but we fail to acknowledge the wonderful hand of God in the process.  God gives, we receive and then just go about our business.  Paul reminds us of the importance of thanking God in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, saying

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

How often have we wondered about God’s will for us?  There it is.

Now in my estimation, that verse from 1 Thessalonians is hard enough, though I admit that doing God’s will is essential and truly works for our eternal benefit.  But this one,  Ephesians 5:20, is harder yet.

Giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

It’s one thing to give thanks in all circumstances, quite another to give thanks for the circumstances themselves.  And yet “giving thanks always for all things” sure seems to include not only difficult circumstances, but pretty much anything we can think of, good or bad.  The lesson here is that if God allows something into our lives, it is somehow intended for our good, though that good may not be easy to see at the time.  I think of the book of Job or any number of tragic stories that we are personally familiar with.

These lessons are the advanced class.  If you are like me, we need to go back to the story of the lepers and remember to thank God for our blessings,  That should be easy and yet I too often fail even there.  Let’s begin with the basics.

 

Luke 16 – Verse by Verse

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How much confidence do we place in wealth or possessions?  Their real value is how we use them to prepare for heaven.  In fact, as we consider the life that is to come, suffering may be worth more than money.

Luke 16.pdf

Luke 16.mp3

A Prayer Prompted by Luke 16

Dearest heavenly Father,

You have so constructed this world that it has become, for us, a place to prepare for eternity.  Help us to get our hearts in the right place and keep them there – focused on you and not on ourselves, our possessions or our worldly pleasures.  Help us to use what material goods we have to serve you and prepare ourselves treasure in heaven.

Help us to see our trials as a gift from you, especially designed to train us and lead us to Jesus.  Your servant James once wrote (James 1:2-4) that we should, “Count it all joy, my brothers,when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

That’s what we want to be – “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”  To the extent that we must endure trials, experience pain and undergo suffering, let it be for your glory and the honor of the name of Jesus Christ.

Amen

The value of suffering – Luke 16:19-31

The story of the rich man and Lazarus tells of a most remarkable reversal of fortunes experienced by two men.  Their earthly lives could not have been more different.  Neither could their eternal destinies.

19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”

A life of wealth and pleasure does not give rise to an interest in spiritual things as easily as a life filled with difficulty.  When we are satisfied with what we have here on earth, what motivation is there to look forward to heaven?  Suffering points our hearts heavenward.  Few people get to experience both ends of this spectrum as deeply as the Irish playwright Oscar Wilde (1854-1900).

Wilde’s career made him the toast of London.  His celebrity status would make him perfectly at home in the company of A-listers today at the most affluent and decadent of Hollywood parties.  He would no doubt have millions of followers on social media.  By his own admission, his life was devoted to pleasure and little else.  He tells of it in De Profundis,

The gods had given me almost everything. But I let myself be lured into long spells of senseless and sensual ease. I amused myself with being a flaneur, a dandy, a man of fashion. I surrounded myself with the smaller natures and the meaner minds. I became the spendthrift of my own genius, and to waste an eternal youth gave me a curious joy. Tired of being on the heights, I deliberately went to the depths in the search for new sensation. What the paradox was to me in the sphere of thought, perversity became to me in the sphere of passion. Desire, at the end, was a malady, or a madness, or both. I grew careless of the lives of others. I took pleasure where it pleased me, and passed on.

Like the rich man in the biblical story, Wilde had no interest in spiritual things.  No interest, that is, until his whole life changed for the worse, or was it for the better?  He goes onto say,

I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character, and that therefore what one has done in the secret chamber one has some day to cry aloud on the housetop. I ceased to be lord over myself. I was no longer the captain of my soul, and did not know it. I allowed pleasure to dominate me. I ended in horrible disgrace. There is only one thing for me now, absolute humility.

Wilde’s reversal of fortunes transformed his thinking, which in turn transformed his character and then his life.  The man who began as the rich man in the story ended as Lazarus.  And he was deeply appreciative of the suffering he was forced to endure.  He explains,

Now it seems to me that love of some kind is the only possible explanation of the extraordinary amount of suffering that there is in the world. I cannot conceive of any other explanation. I am convinced that there is no other, and that if the world has indeed, as I have said, been built of sorrow, it has been built by the hands of love, because in no other way could the soul of man, for whom the world was made, reach the full stature of its perfection. Pleasure for the beautiful body, but pain for the beautiful soul.

It isn’t easy to be thankful for suffering, but if we allow it to make us discontent with this life, then it has accomplished in us a worthwhile goal.  We may truly long for heaven, seek the face of God and come to stand in awe of the sufferings of Christ.  Let’s allow our own sufferings to point us to him and allow his sufferings to give our their meaning.

Faith that overcomes – 1 John 5:4-5

The truest kind of faith thrives in situations where it looks like it is losing.  The Christian martyrs of old, and for that matter, of the present day, die passively.  They may anger and irritate their attackers, but they clearly do not oppress them.  They are and look like victims.  One might imagine they were defeated souls who were finally giving up, and in a way that is true.  There is a sense in which faith is a form of surrender, not to the bully, but to Christ.  It is evidenced by taking up our cross and following him.

The Apostle John wrote the following after all of his fellow apostles had already met untimely deaths at the hands of their persecutors.

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

Faith lives while imprisoned, exiled and sometimes put to death.  If we think an overcoming faith needs to look victorious on the outside we get it wrong.  It doesn’t have to look like anything in particular.  Paul knew this when he said, “for we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor 5:7).  Faith may be inspiring, but it is not intimidating.  

The important thing about faith is that it just keeps going no matter what happens to it.  Consider that the words faith, faithful and faithfulness are all related in the languages of the Bible as they are English.  At times, in fact, the word translated in the Bible as “faith” needs to be translated as “faithfulness.”  For example, in Romans 3:3, “What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God?”

So a wavering, sometimes uncertain faith can still be real.  The faith of the underdog may be more authentic than the faith of the perpetual champion.  The champion is certainly more tempted to trust completely in himself and his abilities.  The faith that is baffled by circumstances, but nonetheless rises to meet its next challenge, may be the greatest faith of all.  G. K. Chesterton summed it up nicely.

Faith is always at a disadvantage; it is a perpetually defeated thing which survives all its conquerors.*

 

* Chesterton, G. K.. The G. K. Chesterton Collection [50 Books] . Catholic Way Publishing. Kindle Edition, location 87385

Luke 15 – Verse by Verse

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In response to some grumbling by the Pharisees and scribes, Jesus gives three parables.  They are that of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin and the Lost (or Prodigal) Son.

Luke 15.pdf

Luke 15.mp3

 

Here is a link to the livestream video:  https://www.facebook.com/horizoncentral/videos/3018444638224566/

A Prayer Prompted by Luke 15

Heavenly Father,

We have sinned against you and are not worthy to be called your children.  Yet that is what you call us once we put our faith in Christ.  Thank you for receiving us into your family.  Thank you for receiving us, like lost sheep, back into the fold.  

We thank you further for seeking us out as the shepherd would seek the lost sheep or the woman would seek the lost coin in the parables.  You show us how much you value us that you did not leave us in our lost state, but sought us out so that we might turn to you.

Help us to appreciate the joy that fills heaven over each sinner that repents.  Help us to share that same joy.  Help us, now that we are walking with you, to be among those who join you in bringing other lost sheep back into the fold.  We know that there are many other prodigals much like ourselves who need to return to you.

Please give us the privilege of seeing the lost found and returning to you.

In Christ,
Amen