Where Are the Other Nine?

Rembrandt – Jesus Healing the Leper

Recorded only in Luke’s gospel is the story of Jesus’ encounter with ten lepers while on His way to Jerusalem.  When they saw Him, the ostracized, disenfranchised lepers all cried, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”  Jesus did just that.  And then He instructed them to follow through with the Law by showing themselves to the priests.

It’s a wonderful story that could’ve ended there – but it didn’t. 

We pick it up in verse 15 –

“One of [the lepers], 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?”

Every time I read that passage my heart is filled with conviction.  Because I know, as I am constantly distracted by the cares of everyday life, I am not nearly as grateful as I ought to be – as I am commanded to be.

Basing his comments on Psalm 100:4, one author stated that “thanksgiving is the gateway to worshiping God” – the very entrance into holy fellowship with the King.

Soon, we celebrate that North American holiday we call “Thanksgiving.” May thanksgiving be a daily characteristic of who we are – of Whose we are.

And, like the one leper in Luke 17, may we never, ever forget to simply stop and tell the Lord “thank you.”

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 

No. 1 Reason Many Reject Christianity? Christians

NOTE:  It’s easy – and valid – to attribute one’s refusal to profess faith in Christ to the hypocrisy and faithlessness of those who actually profess that faith.  But, that excuse won’t hold up in Final Court.  Please stay with me to the end of this blog.

The 18th century German philosopher and atheist, Friedrich Nietzsche, once offered this stinging statement about believers:

“I would believe in their Savior if they acted more like they had been saved.”

Beloved pastor/author, Chuck Swindoll, a number of years ago, offered a similar statement:

“I am a Christian. But if I were not, the one thing that would keep me from becoming one is the words and actions of Christians toward one another.”

Modern-day prophet, singer/songwriter, Keith Green (died in a plane crash in 1982), bluntly wrote in his biography, “Before coming to Christ (as an adult), the thing that kept me from becoming a Christian was Christians.”

The late Brennan Manning once summed it up for us:

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle.  This is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

Sure, the seeming endless hypocrisy of Christians can serve as a major roadblock to a non-believer. “If my Christian friend cares so little about taking his/her faith seriously,” they think to themselves, “why on earth would I want what they have?”

But this conundrum involving the tension between professed faith and applied faith is nothing new – it’s existed since Genesis.

Adam & Eve walked with God daily. And they still told him, in essence, to shove off.

Further, consider the Palestinian people in the early 1st century: they knew personally who Jesus was, and saw with their own eyes  what he did, and heard him teach (this includes Jesus’ own family for crying out loud!).  While we’re removed 20 centuries, they had a front-row seat and still rejected him.

I think of biblical “heroes of the faith” who, fully knowing (as much as humanly possible) who God was, still balked.  Moses offered God 5 different excuses to pass on God’s command to lead Israel out of Egyptian bondage and into the Promised Land.  Jonah… well you know how that turned out. David, a “man after God’s own heart” chose adultery and conspiracy to murder. Paul, author of most of the New Testament did his best to describe his relentless “spirit vs. flesh” battle in Romans 7.

One of my favorite authors, Philip Yancey, writes in an uncomfortably honest style. In his award-winning book, The Jesus I Never Knew, Yancey confesses,

“Jesus’ most devoted followers usually come off as scratching their heads in wonderment, i.e. Who is this guy??, more baffled than anything else… I have placed myself on the edges of the crowd in Jesus’ day as a sincere seeker captivated by the Rabbi but reluctant to follow him…. Would Jesus have won me over? Much as I wish, I cannot easily answer that question.”

All of this said, we’re no different today than we’ve been since the beginning of human existence.

It is entirely possible that some people “talking the talk but not walking the walk” never truly professed their faith in Christ. However, as evidenced by the examples above, it’s entirely possible that they did. 

Can a person make the choice to reject faith in Christ because of the inconsistent way some believers are living their lives?  Of course.

But make no mistake – when I (we) stand before Christ I will not be on trial for what others have done with him.  Just me.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Being on the Receiving End of Gossip

We’ve all been there.

And it hurts.

People love to gossip. It’s hard wired into fallen human nature.

Someone once said. “A lie can make it halfway around the world while the truth is still putting its shoes on.” And we all know the joke (containing a great deal of truth): “Christians don’t gossip; they share ‘prayer requests.”

Years ago, I was on the receiving end of a “gossip mill”. It was demoralizing. None of it was true. But trying to address it was futile.

A friend told me that attempting to address every slanderous word said about you is like releasing a huge bag of feathers into a strong West Texas wind and hoping to catch each one. It simply can’t be done.

It brings us a degree of comfort knowing that King David, described in the New Testament as a “man after God’s own heart”, spent much of his adult life dealing with people who maliciously slandered him. David knew all too well the sting of betrayal. He laments, “It is not an enemy who taunts me— I could bear that. It is not my foes who so arrogantly insult me— I could have hidden from them. Instead, it is you—my equal, my companion and close friend.” (Psalm 55:12-13)

Certainly, there are situations where we are able to track down the source of the lies and confront them. No doubt, we’ve all, at one time or another, been saddled with that awkward task. But, that is the exception; not the rule. Because, most often, the “source” from which the gossip originated is ghost-like and efforts to find them is a complete waste of time, not to mention emotionally exhausting.

Solomon, although far from a perfect man, was, at one time the Bible tells us, the wisest person on planet earth. Having authored most of a biblical book of poetry called Proverbs, he warns the reader over and over again to be careful about what words come out of our mouths. This particular topic is one of the meta-narratives of the book’s 31 chapters. For example, Proverbs 6:16-19 lists “seven things that are an abomination to the Lord.” Five of the seven are directly related to gossip.

But Solomon offers this sage advice in response to gossip: “Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down.” (26:20) When you stoke a fire it strengthens. When you ignore it – it dies out. The meaning here is clear. Don’t waste your physical and emotional energy trying to “set things straight.” Leave it alone.

And never forget: a person who gossips to you will gossip about you.

Below is a poem I heard a preacher recite a long time ago. It is powerful.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

“My Name is Gossip”

I have no respect for justice, I maim without killing;

I break hearts and I ruin lives; I am cunning and malicious and I gather strength with age;

The more I am quoted the more I am believed; My victims are helpless;
They cannot protect themselves against me because I have no name or face;

Tracking me down is impossible; The harder you try the more elusive I become;

I am nobody’s friend; Once I tarnish a reputation it is never the same;

I wreck marriages and I topple governments; I ruin careers and I cause sleepless nights, heartaches, and indigestion; I make innocent people cry on their pillows;

I make headlines….and headaches;

Even my name hisses….my name is Gossip.

Our Incomprehensible God

Psalm 139, which includes the familiar, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” is a beautiful song/poem written by the ancient Jewish king, David.

In verses 11-12, David is contemplating the impossibility of escaping from God’s love, care and sight. He writes,…

“I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night— but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you.”

Put your mind on “pause” for just a moment and think that through.

To God, there is no darkness. None. Not even a shadow. Anywhere.

And don’t mistake what David is saying for God owning a pair of really cool “night vision” goggles. That’s not the meaning of the text. What David is doing his best to communicate in limited human language is that everything – every human body, thought, action; every atom, every quark, every nebula, star, etc. is fully exposed in God’s sight.

This is, as are all attributes of God, well beyond mere human logic, reason and intellect. (By the way, keep in mind that the existence of God doesn’t go against reason, but simply goes beyond reason. There is a difference.)

Final thoughts….

1) Jesus (God in flesh) referred to himself, among other metaphors, as the “light of the world.”

Darkness has been defined in philosophical circles as “the absence of light.”

God is 100%, pure, terrifying, holy light.

Matthew, quoting Isaiah, wrote, “the people walking in darkness have seen a great light…”. John wrote, “God is light. In him there is no darkness at all,” and “The light shines in the darkness; and the darkness can never extinguish it.”

Simply put, when Jesus entered time and space he completely spoiled Satan’s “darkness party.”

2) Because of the biblical truth above, we have hope. And that changes everything.

Whether it be hurricanes, wildfires, broken relationships, mental illness, the pain of loss, etc., – because of the Cross and the Empty Tomb – the Light has “overwhelmingly conquered.”

When Satan attacks you with pain (either physical or emotional) remember that God has provided for us a light with “infinite lumens”:  His Word.

…which is why David wrote: “Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path.”

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Our True North: the Word of God

After our son, Jordan, took his life the earth shifted underneath our feet. Our world was turned upside down.

We soon took scripture printed on copy paper and taped it to every door-jam, every mirror, every cabinet door – you get the idea. (A few of them are in the very spot we placed them 4 years ago.)

So, while the enemy assaulted us with lies: “life for you is over; your marriage is over; your son’s death is your fault; there is no God; etc….”, we made a conscious choice to focus on what we knew to be true: the infallible Word of God.

Both Matthew & Luke record the “showdown in the desert” between Satan and Jesus. Even a cursory reading reveals that, in light of Satan’s lies, Jesus responds with a single, devastatingly powerful weapon: the Word of God. Satan fled in defeat.

The same happened in our home. Oh – I’d be lying if I said it was easy. The spiritual battle was intensely brutal. But, in the end, Satan, the “father of lies”, was rendered impotent when confronted with the Truth.

Throughout this ordeal, my family learned – on a deeper level – what Jesus meant when he proclaimed, “You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Psalm 119 is almost entirely devoted to the exaltation of God’s Word. In verse 28, the psalmist prays, “My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.”

Are you confused? Hurting? Afraid? Tired? Lost? Find your “true north” in the powerful Word of God.

Soli Deo Gloria, nick

Racism & the Bible

You’ve no doubt heard about the White Supremacists/KKK Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the violence that ensued resulting in one death and many seriously injured. (Of note, every organization represented in the United States – regardless of how unpopular & hateful their views – has the constitutional right to assemble peacefully and benefit from their right to free speech.  But that is a topic for another article.)

As a youth pastor, I would periodically teach on the topic of racismRacism (which can originate in any race toward another race) is, in my experience, taught/passed down rather than learned inherently. Like a disease (not terminal, mind you, since it can be un-learned), racism infects the right and biblical thinking of individuals.  I use the adjective, biblical, since, tragically, I’ve visited with a few people over the years claiming to be Christians who are angrily racist.

Racism was rampant in the Bible as the biblical writers, for example, record the hatred Jews had for Samaritans (and vice-versa) as well as the Egyptians forcing the Hebrew people into centuries of slavery.  Some erroneously accuse God of endorsing slavery since we read about slavery in the Bible, and Jesus and Paul never openly condemning slavery.  That is a sorely irresponsible interpretation.  Always remember: just because the Bible records something doesn’t necessarily mean the Bible approves of what is being recorded.  There are numerous heinous acts recorded in Scripture.  Why?  Because it’s the story of God’s pursuit of fallen man – and God never sanitizes the depravity of fallen man (us).

When Jesus & Paul commanded us to “love your neighbor as your self” their clear meaning was that “neighbor” represented all humanity.  Addressing the equality of every created human being, Paul writes to the Galatians, There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. In short, racism is sin.

NYT best-selling author/historian, Eric Metaxas, one of my favorite biographers, tweeted:

“Like my heroes Wilberforce & Bonhoeffer, I see racism as the antithesis of the love of Jesus for all. So White Nationalism is satanic.”

Well said, Eric. 

Solo Deo Gloria, Nick 

Doubting God (it’s ok to do that :))

John the Baptist was described by Jesus, himself, as the greatest prophet to have ever lived. (Luke 7:28)

Yet, it’s John, while suffering in prison and awaiting execution, that asks his friends to go find Jesus and ask him, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” (Matthew 11:3)

Author/professor, Andre Resner, rightly stated, “The struggle with God is not a lack of faith; it is faith.”

Does the painful stuff of life sometimes make you wonder about God? If it does – it means you’re perfectly normal. You’re in strong biblical company.

God has no problem shouldering our doubt. Give your doubt to him – every last ounce of it. Peter, an eye-witness and close friend of Jesus, put it this way: “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick