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A Life of Thanksgiving!

October 8, 2016

14470542_1434259479924694_7228761619478490846_nThe other evening, Denise and I were out for our evening walk. Having walked out to Lake Estes from our home, we turned around and walked back through town. At first, as we walked along the River Walk in downtown Estes, we saw a Mama Bear across the Big Thompson River from us. Can you imagine our surprise when we continued along the walkway and saw one of Mama Bear’s cubs walking from the children’s play area (it had been on the slide!) towards us? Giving it plenty of room, I was mesmerized by the fact that this little one was so close to us! The little one joined its sibling as it waded across the river to join Mama.

On another evening walk, we had to take a slight detour when we encountered this Elk and her calf enjoying a local salad next to the fly fishing shop!

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Yes, we live in an amazing place and we are so thankful to be surrounded by so much of God’s incredible creation! God is so very good and this place we live and serve is amazing. Plus when you add the wonderful friends we have made as we serve the Lord in this place… what can I say other than thank you, Lord! I have lived in many places around this world and served the Lord in a variety of places with a wondrous group of fellow servants of the Lord. In the words of Psalm 111:1, I say with all passion: Praise the Lord!  I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.

Wherever God has called me to serve… from Northern Minnesota to Texas to Nevada to Grenada to England to North Dakota to Florida to Uzbekistan and Afghanistan to Abu Dhabi to Colorado… what a privilege to serve! Each place has its highs and lows… each place has very special people along side whom I have served. That is what comes to mind for me in the opening verses of Psalm 111. But then we get to verse ten: The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever. 

The fear of the Lord? The first time I came across this verse I puzzled over the whole concept of fear and the Lord. Jesus teaches us about a God who is a God of love. How can fear be associated with love for heaven’s sake?! I forget where I came across this discussion, but the essence of it was this: fear is not terror… fear is reverence… fear is trembling in the presence of the God who is love… trembling because I know I am not worthy of that love and yet… I am still loved!

Anyway, this trembling bit has always been a part of my life. When God called me (the second time when I took it seriously) there was a fair amount of trembling. After all, God was calling someone who was flunking out of Accounting as a Junior! Each new level of responsibility I took on in the Air Force led to trembling. My first assignment I was the lowest ranking Chaplain of twelve. My second assignment I was number two and functioned as number one for eight stressful months during a difficult period for our little base in England. During my time as an instructor at the Desert Warfare Training Center I was teaching Chaplains and Chaplain Assistants how to survive and minister in a combat environment despite the fact that I had never set foot in a combat zone! While I may not have trembled for fear of the Lord, I did tremble as I considered what God was calling me to do despite my lack of experience! And in the midst of that trembling, I gave thanks to God for equipping me to serve beyond my level of comfort!

So now we turn to the reading from Luke’s gospel. In this story, Jesus was essentially moving through no-man’s land. He was in the land of the Samaritans, who were the religious enemies of the Jews. While he was on the road he was approached by ten lepers. They kept a respectful distance from Jesus and called out to him, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (Luke 17:13)

To have made such an approach to one about whom you have heard so much must have been scary to say the least. They cried out, perhaps, with a sense of desperation and fear. In awe of him, they somehow managed to cry out “have mercy on us!” We have heard all about you, Jesus of Nazareth. News about healing and mercy travel quickly in the world of the dispossessed. We have lived for years on the periphery of society as outcasts. We respectfully keep our distance out of fear. Fear that they will kick us further away from society and our lifeline of alms giving. Fear that the religious leaders might throw us out to the wolves. Yes Jesus, we live in a constant state of fear. And frankly, how can the psalmist say that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom?

Despite their fear, they cried out to the Lord. In that cry, however, they recognized something about Jesus that the religious elite missed. Jesus, Master they cried out, have mercy on us! They called him Master! They recognized his Lordship! Perhaps there was more to their understanding of the fear/reverence/honor the Psalmist shared than we first realize.

Jesus heard their cry and gave them specific instructions. Go to the priests and show yourselves to them. In that moment of trust and acceptance, they were healed! The amazing thing about this healing was the fact that there were no strings attached. All that Jesus said to them was to go to the priests. He didn’t say go to the priests and give them money. He didn’t say go to the priests and then come back and pay me. He simply said, go!

That is what makes what happens next so spectacular. The ten go off to show themselves to the priests and at once they are healed. What I find amazing is the fact that one of the ten is a sworn enemy of the Jews. The Samaritan is healed and he disobeys Jesus! He returns to give thanks to Jesus for his healing! For him it wasn’t enough to go to the priest and show that he was healed. He HAD to return to the source of his healing and give thanks.

Isn’t that what grace is really all about? A gift is freely given… no strings attached. The lepers were healed BEFORE they even got to the priests! For each of the ten, healing was complete. Again, they were healed with no strings attached. When the Samaritan returned to Jesus, he fell down in front of him and gave him thanks. Jesus does note that of the ten healed, only one returned to give thanks. But he doesn’t take back the healing from the nine who didn’t return. Instead, he tells the Samaritan to go on his way.

As I let this passage settle in my own heart, I hear something else. Go on your way my friend, your faith has made you well. Go on your way, my friend, and share the good news of what God’s love can do for everyone. Go on your way, my friend, and share the love of God which transforms lives! Go on with God’s love and mine to serve.

How do you live your life, dear reader? Do you simply go on your way confident that the Lord has healed you? Do you say the sinner’s prayer at the altar and leave it at that? Or do you sense the transformative and healing nature of the love of God in Christ Jesus and feel compelled to respond to that love with thanksgiving and love?

The Samaritan realized that it wasn’t about him alone. He returned to the source of his healing and blessing and received a commission to go forth! In his healing and in his thanksgiving, he was truly made whole. Will you join with the Samaritan in living a life of gratitude and thanksgiving?

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