SO I DID
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
Matthew 7:7

Earlier this summer my little nephew and I were speaking about the Rainbow Loom bracelets he and his sister make. Last summer when this craft made its debut and captured the attention of young children, my niece and nephew had the full range of supplies to become wonderful crafters with these small elastic links. I described to him another color bracelet I would like; one different than the ones he and his sister already made for me. He said he could make it, and that he would. Summer play and time moved along.

Then one day late in summer, there it was. He placed the beautiful pink bracelet on my writing desk along with a tender personal note he wrote to me in his uneven print. I do not know which one means more to me, the note or the bracelet. I was moved by both and cherish them equally. The Holy Spirit stirred me, and I was given to consider the power of listening, and especially the listening heart of God.

Sometimes it takes a child to remind us that what we say is being heard. God listens to everything we ask of Him. Scripture tells us, God wants us to come to Him and ask. Before we can receive, we must ask, seek, and knock. Then God can respond. Sometimes our re-quests are lighthearted; sometimes we ask for serious help from deep within. He hears each prayer, weak or strong. He hears. He is faithful to answer.

God is prompt to the moment, said Charles Spurgeon. When our requests to God result in Him seeming still, distant, and unresponsive to our prayers, we are wise to remember that God has reasons for everything. His timing is part of His reasoning. Grieving from a painful loss, going through an illness, and adjusting to life in new ways because of unexpected changes, are examples of situations that require time. Time is an essential component to bring us to where the Lord would have us to be—spiritually, emotionally, and physically. The Lord is always working matters out for our good (Romans 8:28). To God, our spiritual development is chief. If the Lord were to grant our prayers at the moment we speak them, what dreadful results might befall us. God loves us so deeply. When He delays answers or brings answers out in an entirely different way, it is because He loves us. That is what love does. It gives, always for the best outcome for another. Always.

Jesus showed His love for the Father and for you and me when Jesus went to Calvary and died on the Cross for our sins. That was an ugly act; it did not at all appear to be an outpouring of love. But it was. It was a sacrificial act of love. In it, Jesus covered our sins with His blood so that we would be forgiven by God. Our value to God is inestimable. Our souls and all else that make up our lives are never too small or great for us to go to Him and ask. His heart moves. His answers come. Wrapped in His love.

The little pink bracelet my nephew made of Rainbow Loom elastics with matching pink beading in the center is beautiful. It was a joy to receive it long after we first talked about it. What I did not expect was the pink beading that he artistically placed in the middle of the bracelet. I did not ask for that. An extra. A trimming. Something my nephew thought would make it more beautiful in appearance and richer in texture. It is.

Keeping faith in the Lord is a lifelong process. Faith and trust go hand-in-hand. If we say we have faith in the God who created us and loves us best and most, then we wait to see His answers, which are always for our best and His eternal glory. When God answers our prayers, a long time after we pray them or in ways we did not expect, it is as though He is saying You asked me, so I did. God’s outcome will be refined with a trimming and timing better than we can imagine. When God answers prayers that thrill us, and when He does not answer as we asked,
three words ring out from every answer He brings, I love you.

Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, You change not. Your heart is always listening to our
hearts. Thank You, Lord, for seeing way up ahead as to how prayers are best answered for us. Help us,
Lord, to have double faith in matters especially difficult. Touch us, Holy Spirit, with encouragement, patience,
and wisdom so that we trust in the process of waiting and when answers come. Your love for us is
woven into every answer You bring. In the Name of Power, Jesus Christ, Amen.

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MARKERS AND ERASERS

In my Father’s house are many mansions, if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there you may be also. John 14:2-3

Recently I went to see the movie HEAVEN IS FOR REAL. If you have not yet seen it, the acting and cinematography are well done. The movie is based on the book of the same name, which tells of the true experience of a child who went to Heaven for a visit. The child was given the opportunity to see Heaven for a brief time and he returned to this world to tell of it. In the movie, the child makes reference to Jesus having markers on his hands and feet. These markers are the evidence of his scars as a result when He was nailed to the Cross as Calvary. Were I to vote, the child in the movie would receive the Oscar for best actor, and the actor playing his father would receive best supporting actor. The movie made an indelible mark on my spirit. Maybe it will do the same for you.

In addition to this movie, another experience made a mark on me. This happened years ago, but I have not forgotten it. Dear friends of mine relayed the story of their young son who had a mishap. He was exploring, as young children do, but this time it was with an eraser in his ear. He managed to get an eraser from a pencil lodged in his ear canal. They were out at a restaurant when his mother discovered what he had done. They had to bring their son to the emergency room to have it removed. All turned out well. But what has stayed with me all these years is the exchange that occurred as the boy was being taken into the room for the procedure. He explained that he was met by his grandmother and grandfather who assured him that everything would be fine. Both his grandparents were deceased. Yet, the realness of their presence made a mark on that little boy, enough to convey to his parents and to me to believe this occurred and remember it years later.

Exchanges with the other side are God’s way of, now and then, giving us signs and wonders to help us along especially when we are in distress. He does not do it directly with each of us, but when one is touched we all can be encouraged. Losses, grief, and pain of any kind, have the power to dislodge faith. For a time, this can occur because distress is challenging. But ample time, the resurgence that comes from God’s Spirit accompanied by the strength received in His Word, reactivate hearts and stir faith anew. No, life will not be as it was. But God, in His wisdom and grace, integrates what has been to create new life and hope for what can be. Grief is an optimum opportunity to witness God’s Word being lived out as promised in Romans, God works all things together for good for those who love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

Marking and erasing are a way of life for us. Our lives are marked by experiences—joyous, sorrowful, good, bad, and sinful. There are some experiences so grand they ennoble us. Other experiences are sinful and harmful to us. We want to erase them from memory. Jesus can set everything right. When an experience comes into our life that causes pain, it can force us to face truths that are uncomfortable and sometimes require forgiveness—toward ourselves and/or others—as part of healing. Inherent in forgiveness is healing. Forgiveness is a difficult act, but a mighty source of release.

For the sake of forgiveness, Jesus walked arduous steps to the Cross at Calvary, availed Himself to be marked on His hands and feet with the nails of sacrifice. We are marked by sin at birth; only the blood of Jesus erases our sin. Belief in Jesus and His sacrifice cleanses us. On our own, we fall short of being worthy to meet God, but belief in Jesus changes everything. Belief in Jesus makes a person prepared to meet the righteous God and enter Heaven and be acceptable to Him. All that Jesus did makes certain earthly and eternal security for souls. The sacred exchange of His blood washing away our sins makes every believer in Christ a marked one for Him.

In the Bible (KJV), Heaven is mentioned 691 times, and Hell is mentioned 55 times. The difference in number is 636; the difference in destination is glaring. While the lesser number is associated with Hell, only one mention of Hell is enough to sit up and take notice. Jesus directs our attention to this place as a reality; because Jesus gives Hell attention, so should we. The finished sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary will prevent me from going there, only because I said Yes to Christ and His sacrifice for me. The Bible is clear about these two prepared places.

Watching the movie, HEAVEN IS FOR REAL, stirred anticipation in my heart to see Heaven one day and see all that the Lord has prepared. Faith in Jesus will enable you and me to know why the Bible speaks of this place nearly 700 times. Until the time comes to be there, the Lord remains faithful to all of His promises. On the strength of those promises the journey of faith continues, infused with the boundless love and the full power of all-knowing God. May that truth be the mark on our hearts that neither grief nor anything else in this life erases. The climatic moment of seeing the Lord face-to-face is still ahead for us. A glorious Heaven awaits those who believe in God through Christ. Jesus as the pathway to Heaven. Heaven is for real. Jesus makes it so.

Lord of Life, You came to set us free. What You did is an act of love that no man can match for You are Emmanuel, God with us. The words seem inadequate for so great an act, but we offer them again, Lord. Thank You for all that You did for us at Calvary. Be glorified in Your loving kindness, and be magnified by the witness of the saints. You alone are the Christ, and the markers on You mean that our marks of sin have been erased. This is all because of You, Jesus. How expectant is the heart of every person who follows You, for the journey leads to You in Heaven. Come, Holy Spirit, to minister and soothe those who grieve. Come, Lord Jesus, to those in need of Your Presence and promises. Come, keep hearts full of You. This is asked in Thee, Lord Christ, Amen.

Where Are You?

And we are His witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey Him. Acts 5:32

Recent tragedies in Asia have captured our attention. The disappearance of Malaysia Airline Flight 370, and the ferry accident in South Korea, are gripping. People are missing; answers have come slowly. For every person who could not be found, there are family members who wail and grieve the disappearance of their loved ones. Headlines offer updates and keep us attentive, as we join in prayer, fasting, and weeping with them. Grief is universal. Tears are a language we all understand. Loss touches everyone.

The disappearance of a loved one is harrowing. A tragedy in the air, at sea, during the fulfillment of military duty, a child not coming home from school at the anticipated time, a mother not at school when it lets out, a father who does not show up for work, and a teenager who does not come home by curfew, are examples of disappearances that can send family members into an emotional tailspin. Rightfully so. Often when there are unanswered questions, the mind races to find answers. Coping with the unknown is hard. God understands. God is there.

Sometimes we ask Where are you? because of emotional distance. There are times in life when people withdraw from relationships due to grief, remorse, anger, neglect and fear. Those interactions once familiar and predictable have changed. Physically people are there, but that is all. Emotionally there is no connection. This kind of disappearance of a personality and the communication that is no more is especially painful.

God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit provide strength and comfort during the times we question where or why. God knows. God sees. If we have faith as small as a mustard seed to believe in the Lord, He will help those who are lost, and provide comfort to all involved. The Lord knows where everyone is at all times. Leaning on God’s eyes to see the physical and emotional whereabouts of someone we love is wise and strengthening. Prayer helps us lean. Even weak prayer counts. God understands human pain. The Holy Spirit intercedes for us so prayer is heard. If all you can say is Jesus, this is all you need to say to activate faith.

The Holy Spirit is a witness in times of uncertainty. When He is present, comfort and counsel are ours. He will uphold those who seek and wonder about loved ones and ask Where are you? While answers may not be clear, the Holy Spirit whispers the gentle assurance that He knows and we are not alone. Sometimes that is the only answer for a time. But knowing God is in the center of a matter is enough to put a heart at ease when nothing else will. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). With faith, prayer, and the belief that God loves those we love more than we ever could, we can trust God to be the Guardian of all those we hold dear; when we know where they are, and when we do not.

Lord, there are times when we are undone by the absence of loved ones, as we have witnessed in Asia. There are also times when someone is right near us but emotionally a continent away. Lord, You know and see everything. Holy Spirit, touch and guide those who cry out for answers. Awaken faith, however small, to believe the answers will come, and to be prepared by You for whatever the answers reveal. Thank You, Holy Spirit, for being our witness in every situation in life. This is asked in Jesus’ Name, and for His precious sake, Amen.

FOLLOWING JESUS

Follow me. Matthew 9:9

These two simple words spoken from the lips of Jesus to Matthew changed Matthew’s life. Immediately. Scripture informs us that Matthew arose and followed him. No hesitation. No dickering as to what he was going to do once he did nor any sudden wonderment about the matter. Perhaps it went through his mind, but he did not hesitate to follow. Matthew obeyed. It was an act of obedience. It was an act of faith. Matthew was supernaturally touched by the power of the Lord, and followed.

Jesus is still saying to people Follow Me. His same touch of power and grace is with us today. For those who have chosen to follow Jesus, there are times when following Him will be not be smooth nor certain. Following the leadership of Jesus is unusual and costly. It will involve risk and sacrifice at times. It will be painful for love and faith are painful at times.

Jesus wants people to follow Him out of love. Jesus knows that to follow Him is the safest path in life, the most loving path, even when the path is difficult and painful. With Jesus we have a steady companion, strength to carry on, and an outcome of peace and affirmation only He offers. To say yes to Jesus is to make a choice infused with love and power. No other choice offers this.

For 40 days Jesus went into the wilderness in the Garden of Gethsemane to fast and pray; to ready Himself for the ultimate sacrifice for love—giving Himself to die on Calvary’s Cross. His act of obedience to the Father to go to Calvary was a loving act, but it did not look like it. When Jesus was crucified at Calvary, it was a gruesome death. He shed His innocent blood for the atonement of all sins. But that ugly act as our sacrificial and dying Lamb turned out to be a glorious beginning. That terrible day of darkness on Good Friday resulted in a great day of salvation for those who believe in Jesus and what the Saviour did.

Belief in Jesus and following Him places an invisible yet certain robe of righteousness around each follower. But that does not mean followers will not have to wear it in times of sorrow and sacrifice. The robe continues to be wrapped around the Lord’s followers when life hurts. That cloak is there. It is an unseen and unfailing covering for Christ’s followers to offer endurance in times of trial. Jesus came out victorious. So shall we.

This may be a challenging season in your life. It may be due to a death, a wayward son or daughter, job loss, displacement from a home, or a different trying experience. If you follow Jesus, He will be with you—always. Just as Matthew navigated through peculiar experiences because of following Jesus, the Lord blessed, guided and strengthened him. Jesus will do the same for you and for me. He cannot do less. Jesus is God, and He will never break His promise. Never. Hold on and carry on. Jesus is leading the way, and His is trustworthy to follow, all the way.

Lord, Your love is unequaled. The depth to which You love people is a depth that we cannot humanly measure, but we look to the Cross to see proof of how far You will go to secure our passage through this life into the life eternal. Lord, touch us again with Your Spirit and stir us so that we are fortified and moved to endure through difficult times. May our faith in You increase and our love for You deepen in this refining season. Thank You, Lord Christ, for never leaving our side and honoring our choice to follow You with the fullness of Yourself. Amen.

V8 or Ginger Ale ?

We love Him because He first loved us. 1 John 4:19

For any of us who have had the experience of helping someone who is quite ill, the simplest of requests are those we want to meet. Recently while helping an elderly patient during an illness, frequently he asked me to get him V8 or ginger ale; the only beverages other than water that the doctor permitted. His ability to swallow was weak, but the taste of these liquids was welcome and refreshing. When I would take the cup to his lips and help him swallow, his entire expression was joyous. His thanksgiving and sincerity were generous for these little sips of relief. My cup runneth over for the grace to be able to hold his drinking cup.

Valentine candies, fancy hearts and decorations adorn shops and advertisements in this month of February. St. Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to express love but not in the simplicity of V8 or ginger ale. However, it is often in the common and every day activities that we really see the beauty and depth of love exchanged. Hearing the voice of a grandchild on the phone, being greeted by the dog at the end of the work day, receiving a text from an old friend, and seeing the familiar face of someone who puts a glow on your own, all speak of love. These are among the common yet treasured experiences in a day that make life worthwhile. And these are also a sampling of the reasons why the absence of them makes life so challenging.

When illness, death, estrangement, divorce, addiction, and other kinds of relational separations occur, there is a void in life that only Jesus can fill. He is the One, the only One, who can make up for the emotional or physical distances that hurt. Jesus is also the One to credit for having known such good moments that live on in memory. Jesus heals. He helps us keep believing in life and cherishing what was. A heart where the Lord is resident is a heart beating with true love that lasts and lives on. Whatever may or may not occur with given relationships that have changed, the Lord will not change. His ways are trustworthy. Jesus and His love are here to stay. Calvary’s Cross and His resurrection from death is our proof.

For the believer in Jesus, the Bible is His love letter. In it the Lord declares His love and offers His promises of love for everyone who believes in Him. Changes in our lives and in relationships will not change His heart toward us. This is valuable to remember when we change, and people in our lives do as well. Jesus stays. His love is fixed on you, on me. He wants us to count on that love. Eternally.

The next time you greet the dog at the door after work, linger a bit longer to pet him…he will love it. The next time your son or daughter calls, stop multi-tasking and listen…the Holy Spirit will give you something special to say. The next time you are called to sit beside a loved one and help nurse an illness, have your Bible on hand and choose a few passages that bring comfort and hope. When it is your turn to ask May I get you a V8 or ginger ale? drink in the moment yourself, for it is a moment both common and divine. Remember the good in love with gratitude. Leave uncertainties to God in prayer. Live in God’s love and grace—while it is now.

Lord, Your love for each person is deep and complete. No expression of Your love for us is insignificant. Therefore, when You place love in our hearts for each other, no expression of that love is small. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for the opportunities we are given by You each day to fulfill small loving acts for someone we love, to be recipients of the same, and have the gift of memory to hold close. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for Your heart in the Bible and for Your momentous act of love—dying so others could live. We love You, Lord Jesus. Every day and every season. You, Lord, are why we love. You always will be. Amen.

THOUGHTS ON PRAYER

And Moses said unto the Lord, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou has spoken unto thy servant but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue. And the Lord said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? Or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? Have not I the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.
Exodus 4:10-12

Who me? Yes, you. This was the essence of the exchange between God and Moses when they met at the burning bush. Moses was a most reluctant leader. He could not see himself as a spokesperson for God let alone a leader for the Hebrews to follow out of Egypt. Moses thought himself to be a weak speaker with no eloquence. But God reminded Moses that He provides the words that come out of Moses’ mouth. Or anyone’s mouth. Moses was to offer his obedience and speak the words God put in his mouth. This was all. The Holy Spirit was inside of Moses to work through him to fulfill God’s plan. Moses followed the Spirit and this is how he could speak and lead. The same Holy Spirit is here today to work through us to fulfill God’s plans. One of the paramount ways the Holy Spirit works in us is through prayer.

Jesus said the Holy Spirit is with believers to comfort, counsel, and guide. Prayer is a way for the Holy Spirit to move us to be close to God, build up the Church, and fortify God’s people. Prayer is to be a familiar act for a believer in Jesus for it fosters fellowship. When someone approaches prayer and thinks he/she is ill-equipped and unskillful with words to talk to God, then it is good to remember that God gives the words via the Holy Spirit. God listens for the heart in our words, not necessarily the string of words we use. When we read the word of the prophet Isaiah, he drips with fluid and compelling speech yet when Isaiah realized Woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips, Isaiah was filled with same humility inside of Moses. Humility is a hallmark of Jesus’ character and it moves the heart of God to listen to us and to respond when we resemble His Son Jesus.

To pray is to talk to God and to listen to God. It is a conversation. When I was in college and studied communications, I was taught that 2/3’s of effective communication is listening. To hear clearly one must listen intently. Often we come to prayer to thank God, make requests of Him, and tell Him what is going on in our lives—good things and challenging things. He wants us to come to Him and talk to Him. He also wants us to be silent so He can speak to us. What He says to you will differ from what He says to me because the faith walks of each person differ. He tells each one of us what He would have us to know. Prayer time builds trust, faith, and intimacy. The deeper we go in relationship with God through prayer, the more we hear His heart and see His hand moving in our lives, and in all of life.

We may think we are like Moses and do not have eloquent words to offer. Or, we may possess a skilled tongue like Isaiah. Either way, God is the one who puts the words in the mouth. But when our words line up with a heart that desires to talk to God and to do that which His Spirit guides us to speak and do, we bless God. We glorify Him. We honor Him. What does He do? He blesses us. He smiles and gives us the grace to make us more into the image of His Son, Jesus. Our prayers, spoken in the silence of our hearts when we are alone, before family, friends, and even strangers, are times that build faith and bring us closer to God. The next time we wonder about our prayers being heard or performing a task in the Lord’s service, we are wise to remember the Holy Spirit is with us to help us. When we say Who me? God says, Yes, you.

Lord God, You reveal to us repeatedly throughout the Bible the importance You place on prayer. Help us, Holy Spirit, to develop a deeper prayer life that will enrich our personal faith walks and foster stronger cohesion among all the saints. May Your heart be blessed and Your plans for our lives be fulfilled as prayers are prayed and answered in the Name of Your Beloved Son, Jesus, our risen and returning Christ, Amen.

WHAT IF YOU HAD NOT GIVEN OF YOURSELF?

Guard thy heart with all diligence for out of it comes the issues of life. Proverbs 4:23

Several years ago I was asked to go to Walter Reed Army Medical Center to meet with wounded soldiers returning from war in the Middle East. These were officers who had seen at least two tours of duty, and it was highly unlikely they would see combat again due to injuries. I was asked to meet with them individually to talk to them, pray with them if they wanted, and give them copies of my book on loss, which could help them cope with some of the losses they were facing due to fellow military dying and/or personal injuries that changed their mobility and often their identity. Of the many places I have been asked to visit and speak, visiting soldiers at Walter Reed made an indelible impression on me.

During one of my conversations with a wounded officer, he explained to me his reason for voluntarily enlisting: September 11th. He was deeply impacted by the attack on the World Trade Centers and while watching some of the footage he felt compelled to enlist and do all he could. He was a young, humble, and intelligent man who had fought courageously and willingly in the Middle East. His concern, however, was that he was not still over there. He very sincerely said, I have to get back to my buddies; they need me.

This man was seriously maimed. Without God performing a miracle, he would not engage in combat again, and his civilian life would be significantly altered due to his injuries. As I looked into his eyes, his intention to return to battle was earnest; the abundance of his heart was speaking what he wanted to do—make a difference for others. He seemed to be waiting for me to encourage his hope. Knowing that in all likelihood that was not possible, I said to him, What if you had never gone? What if you never gave of yourself at all? With that, his eyes opened up and it was as though a light went on inside of him. Something registered; an insight perhaps that he had made an investment and what he had to give was offered. He had the physical and emotional wounds to prove it. Now maybe he also possessed the internal satisfaction that comes with having no regrets. The tears in his eyes and his soft words Thank you for saying that gave to me know that God had just imparted to this man a measure of healing and relief.

Time is a precious commodity. Couple time with good health and you have the makings for living well. And generously. Not in the giving of things as much as in the giving of self. Tangible items are sometimes the result of giving, but extending the gift of yourself penetrates others in a way that nothing material can. We may not ever know how our gift of self changes a life, changes a decision to a positive one, changes the course of someone’s direction toward good and away from evil. But unless and until we opt to offer what we have, we inhibit the potential changes that God wants to make from our offerings of self.

Often people think themselves unworthy, unskillful, ungraceful or unprepared to offer anything of merit to others. As human beings we all fall short of perfection. As Christians we are a work in progress, but never without the guiding and equipping presence of the Holy Spirit to work through us, for us, and for outcomes that are mutually beneficial and part of the craftsmanship of God’s perfect plan. With the Spirit’s leading, we give what we have and leave the results to the Lord. We may not go across the world as a soldier to give of ourselves. It is the distance we travel in the heart that tells.

Much is exchanged at Christmas. At Christmas and always, God is looking at our hearts. What we give of ourselves to others we are really giving to God. In His loving way, He makes our offerings to others return to us in fullness of heart and peace that nothing material can match. Christmas may be different for some of us this year as we miss people who are no longer part of our lives. Some of the deepest healing from loss can come when we give of ourselves to someone else. The Holy Spirit can use small or large portions of self to make us more like Christ, which is the finest return from giving of ourselves.

Cards. Gifts. Visits. Phone calls. Emails. Text Messages. Dinners. Lunches. A simple cup of coffee. Common activities but they all hold opportunities to give of yourself. What if you had not given of yourself? Your heart will tell you, one way or the other.

Lord, Christmas places our focus on You and on matters of the heart. Love is why You came to us, died for us, and now live for us. Lord, may the fullness of Your birth, life, death and resurrection make us mindful of your heart that shows us how our hearts can be when yielded to You. Help us, Holy Spirit, to find creative and useful ways of expressing hope and encouragement to others as we pour ourselves out as a drink offering, and in the process be filled with the love of You. This we ask in Your Name, Lord Jesus, Amen.

GRATITUDE

Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Luke 17:19

Jesus reveals much about His heart, our hearts, and gratitude in the story of the ten lepers. Jesus was walking through a certain village and the lepers were far off; far off because lepers had to remain on the outskirts and separated from others without leprosy. The lepers cried out for Jesus saying Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. They wanted healing. Jesus healed them. Each one. When they were healed, they went on their way—except for one leper. When this leper saw that he was healed he turned back to Jesus, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at the feet of Jesus and gave Jesus thanks. Jesus asks were there not ten cleansed? then blesses the one who came back to say thank you by saying to him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole. (Luke 17:19).

Only one leper came back to express thanksgiving. Glaring. Because Jesus questions the absence of the other nine lepers we are wise to take notice. This story reveals the value God places on acknowledging Him for the blessing before moving forward in life to enjoy the blessing. Sometimes going back to say Thank You is a quick realization. Sometimes it is an arduous journey. This can be so when someone or something beloved is gone and life will never be the same. Gratitude is easy when life is easy. In the fullness of dreams, plans, and the living out of the routine and milestone moments, it is possible to meander along life’s pathways ensconced in God’s grace without recognizing God for all He has given. It is when someone or something we hold dear is gone that we may realize what we had—and the Giver. When the season for that blessing is over, two things happen in a heart—gratitude swells and remains or bitterness grows.

People with gnarled hearts live with a resentment that is corrosive and cumulative. Because one suffers a loss that is cruel and/or untimely, bitterness can take root. Miscarriages, people killed by drunk or texting drivers, suicides, homicides, incurable illnesses, sudden deaths of infants or adults, drowning, and those who perish due to natural disasters, are among the reasons why people turn bitter on themselves and on others. They cannot find a reason that is rational nor acceptable. Accepting a loss, in whatever way loss meets us, is essential to healing.

Acceptance may or may not involve forgiveness. Not all losses are abrupt and tragic but every departure of someone or something dearly held does involve a careful review of what has been with that particular person or circumstance. That review is individual for grievers because relationships are distinctive. What we develop with another person, an occupation, a sport taken away due to dementia or a maimed limb, are examples of relationships that define who we are. When that person or activity is gone, we ask Who am I now? For those in Christ, identity does not change with a loss but grief does make people vulnerable to good and bad influences. Sometimes if a bitter root encounters negative ground to which to attach itself, it will. Then negative thoughts and habits will creep in and try to take more ground in one’s life. Anger is justifiable and often an emotion felt in times of trials. But anger that turns to bitterness is dangerous. Healthy anger subsides; bitterness may not. Jesus highlights the leper who came back to illustrate important lessons.

First, when we keep our eyes fixed on God as the source for everything we are given it keeps us humble and dependent on His grace. Gratitude is a safeguard against pride. When we stay mindful of God as the source of all blessing, we reduce the potential for self-centeredness, self-elevation, and pride to take root in the heart. God hates pride. Satan does not. Pride is home base for Satan. It is what had him thrown out of Heaven. Satan was the most beautiful angel in the Lord’s realm but that was not enough for Satan. He wanted all power and exaltation above God. There was not an ounce of gratitude in him for what God had given him and made him. There was the insidious desire for more. In God’s economy there will always be persons with more or less blessings, and the responsibilities associated with the measure He dispenses. However, when a hint of self-righteousness exists and expectation to be favored is in place, pride is present. Gratitude puts credit for blessings where credit belongs, with God alone, and plucks out bitterness and potential pride at its root.

Second, gratitude secures and deepens faith. When we are so moved by the Lord’s blessings and favor on our lives that we come back to thank Him, we reveal our faith that He saw our need and He heard our cry. Moreover, thanking God after a protracted time of illness or grief signifies God’s faithfulness to us. His Word tells us I Am God, I changeth not (Malachi 3:6). When we are in our difficult seasons, God is still all loving, powerful and knowing. He will bring us through tough times, and lead us to the next seasons in life with an embellished character and stronger faith, which develops as the direct result of a trial. He gives insights and knowledge about Himself and life that we would never know without loss. Every loss brings a gain of some kind. It is wisdom to seek out what that gain is.

There is a song titled Thankful on Josh Groban’s CD Noel. Although this is a Christmas CD, Thankful is a beautiful and stirring song to listen to throughout the year. The lyrics include the following line, And every day we hope for what we still can’t see. Sorrow comes; it blinds us to what we cannot see. But hope in God is not a shallow hope, not the world’s hope. The Lord’s hope is alive even if we cannot feel it or see it. We may be unaware that God’s hope is carrying us but it is. God’s hope is the hope that does not disappoint (Romans 5:5). His Word says so, and God backs up everything He promises with His heart and His unequaled power.

This Thanksgiving will bring its share of blessings in traditional cooking, baking, football, and activities common to this holiday. For some of us the day will be quite different than previous years if we have experienced a serious loss. There will be pangs of missing and physical pain for those enduring illness. Jesus understands. The Holy Spirit stays close to comfort and to reduce and relieve emotional and physical distress. The Lord is constantly present, loving, and compassionate. To know this and take each breath in the certainty of His presence and His promises is to live with hope and healing. Life will not be as it was. But it is still filled with the faithful God who gives us grace and responds to the cry of our hearts. Nine lepers went their way after receiving a blessing from Jesus. One leper was made whole because he came back to say Thank You. In all that we must let go of in this life, to hold on to gratitude enables us to hold on to the love. This Thanksgiving, and each day, may we turn back to Jesus to say Thank You and then look ahead with the assurance of His grace and more blessings still to come.

Lord Jesus, we come back to You today to say Thank You for Your touch on our lives that has produced abundant blessings. We come back to You today to say Thank You for hearing our prayers and seeing the tears of those who suffer in any way. Lord, we know You care and You respond to those who call upon You in faith. We gladly give to Thee the glory and the honor for all of the blessings our lives have known and shall know. We trust by faith that even sorrows You will refine into faith more precious than gold. This we pray in Thy Name, Lord Jesus, Amen.

Blind Faith

Thomas, because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. John 20:29

It was a Sunday morning in worship service at communion time. The ushers were directing the congregants on the left side of the church into a line to receive communion. A couple who raise puppies to become seeing-eye dogs for the blind took their place in line. As the pastor and communion assistants offered the elements to the couple, the dog looked up at the pastor, softly whimpered, and gave a glance up as if to say I want the blessing, too. The trainers of the dog gently ushered the little fellow back to the pew. The pup did not receive communion but his presence in the Lord’s sanctuary still brought him a blessing.

The adorable puppy attending worship is in a program that trains and disciplines puppies to become seeing eye dogs. The puppy is trained to prepare him to lead a blind person who will be dependent on this animal’s skills and instincts for safety and guidance. These dogs make it possible for blind persons to work, go to school, and live a productive life because of the training and protective instincts of these dogs. As part of the training of these puppies, they are never given food and treats as a prize for doing something well. Instead they are always given love. Trainers will reward the puppies with kindness, petting, and hugs. Because the trainers themselves have big hearts and loving homes, the puppies learn quickly about love. When love is received, love is returned because it is modeled. These dogs become exceedingly affectionate companions to the blind people they serve and their families. The blind persons come to trust these dogs; a trust established out of mutual necessity and the consistent responses by the dogs.

In many churches October is the time designated for the blessing of the animals in remembrance of St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis had an unusual affection for animals and considered them his family. It is right to want to see our pets blessed by God since our pets are our family. Our furry and feathered friends live with us and come to know us, our personalities, and routines in the same way that our loved ones do. Pets offer a presence and a comfort to us that makes home what it is. When we think of the goodness in our lives the companionship that pets bring is indeed a blessing from the Lord.

Pets are creatures that offer companionship but steady and secure companionship is something only Jesus can give to us. His companionship has no equal. He remains lovingly present with us throughout our lives. Faith pleases God. Faith signifies love and trust. Sometimes love involves blind faith; not knowing at all what the future will bring but placing one’s full weight of trust on God’s promise to never leave us. Blind faith is essential when difficult seasons come and life’s pains are deep and debilitating. Grief is one of these seasons. It can be one of the loneliest and darkest times in life. The loss of a loved one and/or a dramatic change in circumstances that sever us from what was can bring us inside caverns of emotions we have never known. We may think we are to navigate all this alone. We are wrong. Jesus is there. Not only does He remain in dark and sorrowful seasons, He knows the way through them and out of them into the light for He is the Light. His promises are never more trustworthy than when we have to live out the promises for ourselves. Once we walked through a personal valley and have owned the truth of His faithfulness, we cannot doubt Him and His promises.

Think back to the telling of the appearance of the Lord Jesus after He rose from the dead and went to see His disciples. He met with Thomas who doubted this was Jesus. Thomas wanted proof that this was really the One who had gone to the Cross on Calvary to shed His blood for the forgiveness of sins. Thomas required evidence. The scars on the Lord’s hands from when He was nailed to the Cross were the proof Jesus offered and Thomas accepted then proclaimed my Lord and my God (John 20:28). Jesus provided the physical proof Thomas needed but the Scripture above indicates Jesus added that there is a blessing for those who believe without physical proof.

Blind faith looks to the heart of God and what He has said in His Word, not to the details of circumstances to find assurance that we are not on pain’s path forever nor alone. The Lord wants us to stay dependent on His grace and power—when things are going along smoothly in our lives and when they are filled with challenge. Years ago when I was on a writing assignment for an organization seeking to find jobs for blind people, it was necessary for me to shadow the social workers for meetings with blind individuals who were candidates for jobs. It was explained to me that there are two types of blindness; congenital existing from birth and adventitious which is accidental and comes later in life. Depending upon when a blind person became blind, some had the ability to know how to function in certain situations because they had some sight at one point in life or they had come to be thoroughly dependent on good training to live without bringing harm to themselves or others.

In many ways the foundation of our faith is developed from what we are given at birth as well as what gets molded into our faith from life experience. Faith can be keenly developed in times of weakness because God’s strength is our only means of support. A weak spirit and body yielded to God can be upheld with His strength. But a weak spirit and body given over to anyone or anything other than God cannot stand the test of time. There are all sorts of barriers humans use that prevent the operation of faith in God. But the Lord is of great patience to wait and to woo so those barriers disintegrate. Yielding to the Lord and the movement of the Holy Spirit are certain to yield blessings, strength, and hope for tomorrow. However faith is cultivated, via congenital or adventitious means, it is wise to extract every ounce of experience from life that makes faith grow.

The next time our pets greet us at the door after work, cuddle with us on the sofa or fly over to us and perch on our shoulder, we will pet and fuss over them as always. The gentle acts of affection we exchange with them strengthen the bond we share with them and provide warm moments of living and giving. Their unconditional love and silly ways bring us laughter and make our lives richer and our homes warmer. The little puppy in training that peered up at the pastor in the hope of receiving communion whimpered his disappointment for not having received the blessing with the others. What this young canine did not know was that to his trainers, the blind person he would eventually serve, and fellow worshipers in church, he was already blessed, and he was a blessing. God had already made it so. Each day may we embrace our pets for what they are—God’s gift of family to us.

Lord, make us instruments of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sorrow, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
The Prayer of St. Francis

TREASURES

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
Matthew 6:19-21

Rainbow Loom is the current craft phenomenon that has captured the attention of youngsters this summer. It is a laptop loom on which a child takes tiny circular bands and loops them together with a threading stylus to create bracelets, necklaces, and hair pieces. The bands come in many colors and the creations are brilliant and serviceable. My little niece and nephew introduced me to this activity and happily insisted on making bracelets for me. They carefully chose the colors themselves but made sure my favorite color, blue, was dominant in the color scheme. After they were finished with their craftsmanship, I put on the treasures. They were thrilled! They glowed with pride and satisfaction as I complimented them on their creative talents. The creations rested on my wrist but the actual treasure was stored in my heart and in Heaven.

This Scripture in Matthew instructs us to store up our treasures in Heaven. This is where treasures are held safe from destruction of any kind. Often when we are in the throes of enjoying life with those we love and pursuing academic and professional dreams, we may not take the time to consider where or even if we are storing our treasures. It may not be until a jolt hits us such as the loss of someone or something that we pay attention. Loss is often a catalyst for assessing personal treasures.

The heart is the place where we house what we hold most dear. This includes people, moments, places, objects, victories, and sorrows. Yes, even sorrows. It may seem strange that sorrow would be considered a treasure. But the heart that holds anything of value holds everything of value. People and events that we hold close give us reasons for goodbye. Special people leave our lives due to death, military service, children leaving home, relocations, and mental departures due to Alzheimer’s or dementia. When these life altering experiences occur, hearts break and emotions flow. Sorrow comes into our hearts and this is evidence of love’s presence. Sorrow felt for someone we have known and loved is as much a part of what we feel with them on cherished golden days because sorrow is part of love.

Jesus contains for us in His heart everyone and everything we treasure. We do suffer losses on earth but in Jesus nothing is lost. Everything of value to us is held by Him. The Bible tells us We love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). Our capacity to love God—love anyone—comes from the presence of the Lord in the heart. When we invite Jesus to be in our hearts in a personal and meaningful way, the Spirit of Christ is inside of us to love us, encourage, sustain, stir, and steady us. Jesus stays and helps us endure whatever hurts because of love, and sees us through to the other side of pain. His promises are trustworthy because His heart is pure and His intentions for people are life-giving and life-affirming. He died so we could live. He loves so we can love. With all this love we create spiritual fruit that will last and bring glory to God.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God takes loss, refines it, and infuses it with meaning beyond human comprehension but not beyond human acceptance. Grief is strong but God is stronger. When we accept His love and know that He is trustworthy, we can accept the way in which He works a grief experience out for our good. He promises in His Word that He works all things together for good for those who love God and are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). In order to receive the spiritual gains from a loss, we must yield to God. We have to surrender our ways for His ways so He can bless and reveal more of Himself and His abiding love for us. God is a giver. The Giver. Therefore, we can believe by faith that losses in our lives never stop the Lord from wanting to give to us more of His heart, grace, protection, and joy. Our joy is His joy.

My handmade Rainbow Loom bracelets are now part of my treasure trove. Their value is not material; it is spiritual, and of far greater worth than human appraisals. When I see these bracelets among my jewelry, I think of the crafters; young loving hands and giving hearts eager to create and to please me. This is true for all of us when we look at the possessions we hold dear. Our personal collections of trinkets made by children and special gifts given to us by adults are symbols of affection directly connected to those we love. The memories we have made are ours to keep and savor even when people are no longer with us. We thank God for all He has granted. Our hearts can be at peace because all of the treasures of love we have known Heaven shall safeguard forevermore.

Giving God, Thank You, Lord, for the innumerable times that we have exchanged treasures in objects, moments of affection, and blessings from Your heart with those in our life’s journey. Lord, for those who grieve the loss of someone or something, in Thy loving way soothe their memories with tears of thanksgiving rather than tears of regret. Cushion the visual contact that grieving persons have with objects and photographs of the past so that there is tender grace to accompany those who must adjust to the significant absence of loved ones. Holy Spirit, inspire newness of life and the hope of the ages in those who grieve. For all believers in Thee, Lord Jesus, magnify Thy Word and promises to us so that we can utilize our time on earth wisely to lay up for ourselves treasures in Heaven in Your safekeeping. Into Thy giving heart, Lord Jesus, I pray, Amen.