Returning Thanks

 

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.”  Luke 17:15-17 NIV

Jesus was traveling to Jerusalem when 10 lepers cried out to him in loud voices from a distance.  They were terminal, contagious, and had to keep away from others.  “Jesus, Master, have pity on us.”  Jesus heard their cry.  “Go, show yourselves to the priests,” he said.  And as they went they were healed.

One of the lepers returned to Jesus with praise and thanks.  The other nine walked on, why?  Were they too excited about the blessing they had received, too busy making plans?  “How should we spend this new lease on life?  What do we do with this dream come true?”  Or, were they just in such a hurry to finally be together with their family and friends?  And why would I fault them?  Weren’t they obeying what Jesus commanded?  Jesus told them “go.”  He didn’t tell them to come over and give him praise.  He didn’t call after them, “Hey, what do you say?” or “You’re welcome!”

I wonder, if I were one of the lepers, would I be the one who went back?

What made that one different?  What entered his mind?  What stopped him in his forward rushing tracks, and sent walking back, alone?  I think he realized the gravity of the situation.  He was a leper. And he was a Samaritan.  This made him a double outsider.  Maybe the others deep down thought they deserved what they finally got.  He knew he didn’t.  Jesus had seen and helped, him.  There would be no more languishing in utter despair, no longer that life sentence of hopelessness.  The weight of that blessing swung him around and swung him hard.  Walk alone?  Who cares.  “I’m healed!  I’m free!  I’m falling at Jesus feet.  Thank you Jesus!  What can’t wait for me?”

I want to be swung around.

That one leper has me thinking about the magnitude of what Jesus has done for me.  He has made it so that when God sees me he says “Clean!  Spotless! Come in!”  He’s healed my heart so I can be a life giving part of, an encouragement to, my family and community.  I don’t want to rush head long into my blessings or dash ahead with my plans.  I want to learn to be the one, the one who stops, and returns, to give thanks.

When we were overwhelmed by sins you forgave our transgressions.  Psalm 65:3 NIV

Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed?  Where are the other nine?  Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Luke 17:17-18 NIV

A Broken World Made Whole

Every Christmas I put out the manger scene that has been in my family for about 75 years. The old figurines are beautiful but most of them are showing wear, and you can easily see that many of them have been broken.  Both the shepherd and the angel are missing their legs.  Years ago my grandmother fastened cardboard to the bottom of each so they won’t fall over. One of the sheep is creased with cracks showing it has been glued back together.  The other has uneven feet and must lean against the shepherd for support.  And the donkey, he’s a mystery.  I believe his tail has been pulled and he looks sort of… well, chewed on.  I’m sure if I took this bunch of characters to the Antiques Road Show they would be declared of little value because of their flaws.

In the past I tried to hide my broken manger scene figures behind the more perfect ones or behind some greenery, but lately I am letting them show, because they perfectly represent the value God places on a broken and imperfect person like me.  They inspire me to sing about the fact that I have been invited, cracks and all, to partake of every good thing God offers me through Jesus.  They remind me that Jesus has made me whole and has given me the grace to stand with joy in his presence.

Timothy Keller says that “there is no good reason for God to care about us. But amazingly he does.  He doesn’t love us because we benefit him in some way.  How could we?  He loves us simply because he loves us (Deuteronomy 7:7).  That’s why we praise Him.”

Merry Christmas, from our home to yours!  – Jake and Dana Huffman

Thanksgiving Table

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It had been a rough couple of days.  I was assaulted by thoughts, enemy thoughts that kept coming against me.  I was battle weary.  I felt confused and lost.  And got down on my knees to pray.  As I began confessing all my oppressive thoughts, I felt a strong command to my heart, “Remember the great table of the Lord.”  Oh yes, I thought, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies” Psalm 23.  What is at this table of the Lord?  Truths.  Truths that when taken up and taken in, fortify us for the fight within.  These are not “visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads,” but correct thoughts of who God is.

I remember my grandmother’s table and a special meal served at her house.  It was a feast worthy of exclamation.  Fruit was fizzling in purple goblets and mere pats of butter had been shaped like roses.  As each dish was carried out of the kitchen and placed on the table, everyone seated exclaimed things like, “Oh my…” “Wow!”  “This looks wonderful!”  And it was.

But there is a greater table.  There is a table for weary and storm-battered souls.  Sit down in the presence of your enemies and eat there.  Feast on the richness of who God is.  Take in, and savor, what is true of Him and what is true of you:

God is fighting for you.  And he will win. (Exodus 14:14)

He loves you even when you feel terrible and unlovable. (Romans 5:8)

He knows right where you are, even if you feel lost. (Job 23:8-10)

He will never, ever, ever leave you, even if others do. (Hebrews 13:5)

Nothing will stop his persistent goodness and grace to you, nothing. (Psalm 23:6)

These truths give clarity.  They wipe away confusion about God’s nature and what he is able to do.  He’s deeply compassionate and all powerful.  These truths wipe away confusion about where you are and who you are to him.  You are under his watchful eye.  You are deeply loved, and never to be forsaken.  Exclaim over each of these revelations.  Thank God for each truth.  This is comfort food.  Sit.  Eat it until you are fat.  Then give thanks.  Give thanks that this food can and will, change your life!  Give thanks that in the light of these truths, you see the enemy’s lies for what they are, pesky flies at the Father’s table.

Romans 1:21 says, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God, nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened…”  What keeps our thoughts from becoming futile?  What stops our hearts from being dark?  Glorifying God (gladly exclaiming over who he is) and giving thanks to him.  This floods our hearts with light, which means peace, calmness, truth, and Jesus, because Jesus is light.  Do these things and your toughest battles are won.  Amen?  Amen.  Let’s eat.

 

 

Just As He Said

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Jesus’ disciples should have known what was coming that morning, they really should have.  Jesus told them he would be raised to life after three days, so why wasn’t everyone hanging around the tomb on that Easter morning, excited, expectant?  Why were his followers somewhere else, cowering, despairing, disappointed, afraid?  Maybe for the same reason I hide, or cower, despair and fear…  Because I don’t believe what Jesus has said.  If I did, wouldn’t I be near that tomb, standing in that hard place?  That difficult place that whispers, “This thing is over with, it’s sealed, dead.”

Thankfully, the resurrection of Jesus never depended on his follower’s faith in his words.  Thankfully there was no belief meter deciding if everything came true, deciding if he would come through for doubters and skeptics and flagging friends and misguided enemies…  Jesus said he would rise and he did.  He did it in spite of the frowns, suspicions, and sealed tomb.  With no help from a cheering section or venture capitalist, he rose.  Just as he said.

And then, it gets better.  He walks through the doors people were too scared to open and says, not “What’s wrong with you, why didn’t you believe me?”  Not, “Well, you don’t get much now after the way you behaved.”  No.  He walks through doors people were too scared to open, passes right through walls they’ve been hiding behind, and says, “Peace be with you!”  Halleluiah, what a Savior!

Makes me want to run to the tomb, doesn’t it you?  Makes me want to run to that hard and sad and carefully guarded, sealed, dead thing and stand there.  Stand there all alone if I have to, waiting, for the third day.  Waiting, because I’ve learned that Jesus will do… just as he said.    

                       “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.”  Matthew 28:6 NIV

Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room

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My mom was recently admitted to the hospital with internal bleeding.  They were thinking that maybe an artery got punctured when a tissue sample was taken the week before.  She was being given blood and waiting.  Waiting for the next day when they would go in and look around, and hopefully find and solve the problem.  While they waited I worried.  I was thinking about how another family member had not fared well under a similar circumstance.  I was 1,000 miles away and in a state of anxiety.  Running rehearsals for impending disaster.

After about a half hour of fretting something came over me.  And I started thinking that maybe it was wrong to focus on what happened to my mother’s family member, what happened in her physical family line.  I began to feel a challenge before me.  A challenge to focus on her heavenly heritage instead of her earthly one.

I got my Bible out, but wasn’t sure where to turn.  I was looking for the passage about the people walking in darkness seeing a great light when I stumbled upon these words of Isaiah in chapter 8.  The Lord has given me a strong warning not to think like everyone else does.  I was gripped.  I felt the words were for me.  I felt like God was warning me to think about him, to think like his child.  I flipped over to the Psalms looking for words about my spiritual heritage.  I found these in Psalm 77 (NLT) Oh God your ways are holy.  Is there any god as mighty as you? You are the God of great wonders! You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations. By your strong arm, you redeemed your people… When the Red Sea saw you, O God, its waters looked and trembled!  The sea quaked to its very depths…  Your road led through the sea, your pathway through the mighty waters- a pathway no one knew was there!  Wow.

I could rehearse human frailty or I could recite Holy wonders.  That would be my choice going forward.  It took me a moment to realize that it would not be an insult to my mother if I chose not to worry and fret my way through this.  That instead it would honor God, invite Him in.  It would be one way I could “prepare Him room” this season.  And wasn’t that what I had been singing about?

 

“Dah Who Dor-aze”

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It was one of those days when all seemed wrong in the world.  A day when you wonder if you will really win the fight of faith you are in.  Darkness was rising, my hopes sinking.

As I got ready for bed that night I was just plain heartbroken.  I fell to my knees in prayer and could say only one thing, “Lord, do we really win?”  Then I cried.  I cried for what upset me that day and I cried for the sorrows of the whole world, as best I could know them.

After that I crawled into bed.  My husband, a pastor, had recently preached about Paul and Silas singing hymns at the end of a hard day.  The shoe fit, so I put it on and laced it up the best I could.  I found some hymns on my iphone and tried to sing along.  Then I reached over and turned out the light.

I had been lying in bed for twenty minutes and was just ready to drop off to sleep when I heard it, a voice in my heart.  It said one thing, an odd thing for a hot August night.  “The grinch will not stop Christmas from coming.” it said.  The voice was so matter of fact.  And the message was given as a doctor might give a simple diagnosis.  It was given as if I was to, in light of that diagnosis, go to sleep, rest well, and rise to live in hope.

“The grinch will not stop Christmas from coming.”  I began to think about that old Dr. Seuss story.  I compared it with my own day.  The grinch crept into Who-ville with plans of spoiling everything.  He snuck into “Who” homes, snaked across “Who” floors, and cursed “Whos” under his breath, as he stole what they had hoped for.  He even swiped the “Who hash.”  He took it all!  Or did he?

Suddenly in my mind’s eye I was zeroing in on the end of the story.  The part where all the “Whos” great and small, in spite of it all, hold hands and…. sing.  Sing like Paul and Silas.  Sing like I had attempted.  “Dah Who Dor-aze” they sang.  I never understood that song.  Until now.  Now I know what it means.

It means that our enemy can take from us a lot of things, but he can’t take the big thing.  He can’t stop God from showing up.  He can’t stop God from filling our hearts with hope today, and he can’t stop Him from setting everything right on that Great Day.

As I began to fall asleep for the second time that night I heard that voice one more time- quiet, calming, true.  It said, “Keep singing Cindy Lou.”

 

“Just when I need Him, Jesus is near.

Just when I falter, just when I fear.

Ready to help me, ready to cheer.

Just when I need Him most.

 

Just when I need Him, Jesus is strong.

Bearing my burdens, all the day long.

For all my sorrows, giving a song,

Just when I need Him most.”

 

-William C. Poole

The Best Thanksgiving Dinner

DSCN0046Thanksgiving.  We arrive hungry and leave full.  If all goes perfect, we sit down with family around a table beautifully set and a meal lovingly prepared.  And hopefully, for a moment, cares and sorrows and disputes are set aside.  Empty plates and full bowls sit before us.  Grace is said.  And we dig in.  Delighting the host or hostess who has sacrificed for this special moment, we partake ravenously.  And rapturously.

As good as this gets, there is yet a better table.  Where people pull up from all walks of life.  Yellow and brown.  Weary and worn.  Cares and sorrows and disputes are cast aside, along with fears, and mistakes, and pretending, and pain, and labors of every kind.  Here, the Lord says grace.  Over you.  Here, the Son washes feet.  Breaks bread for broken people.  Serves up… himself.  To give you peace, forgiveness, a second chance, another helping of mercy.  This is the table of abundant love.  Won’t you sit and stay awhile?  Delight your Host and partake ravenously.  Rapturously.

“Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?  Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.  Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.  I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love…”  Isaiah 55:2-3 NIV