Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thankful

Today is a day where we in America pause to give thanks. For weeks, many of us have been talking about what we are thankful for, counting our blessings and naming all of the beautiful things in our lives. 

But that's not really what thankfulness is. 

Thankfulness is not a reaction that we should have to the circumstances or contents or contexts of our lives. It is not something we do in response to what this world, this life, or even our God, does for us. It is not a propositional exchange. 

Faithfulness is a state of being. 

It's this thing that comes welling up from somewhere deep inside of you, and it's as unshakable as the depth of your faith. It's just natural, it's the kind of thing that you'd have to either try really hard not to be or just neglect long enough that you forget that it's there. 

The very concept is difficult. It's hard because we spend so much of our lives in comparative thanks. On our best days, we're told we ought to be thankful that we have good days like these because others don't, and on our worst days, we're reminded to be thankful because others are having days much worse than ours. And we have learned to judge our thanks by what we have and what others don't have and what life looks like through just the right lens. 

That's not thankfulness. It's arrogance. It's doing whatever we have to do to think more highly of ourselves, then being thankful for the view from up here. 

When we read the Scriptures, there is certainly a theme of thanksgiving. God calls His people to live thankful lives. But not once does He tell them what they should be thankful for. Not once.

Not once does He say, "Be thankful, for you have it better than all the other nations. Be thankful, for I am your God and that's really good for you. Be thankful, for the land has produced great fruit this year for you. Be thankful, for you have enough on your table and your neighbor doesn't." It's not the way God goes about it. He just says we should be thankful. Not "for" anything, but because thankfulness is at the very core of who we are;

it is part of awe.

That's hard, I know. It's hard because it's so difficult to put into words that anyone can understand unless they already know it. But just because it's hard doesn't mean we tuck it away and settle for something less; this is essential. This is the very essence of who we are.

Thankfulness is part of that smallness that we feel when we stand in the greatness of God and His creation. It's part of the way that our hearts tingle a bit under the night sky, a million stars lit up over us and we, so big in our own britches, just a speck. It's part of that humility that just sort of settles in us when we realize that what we're doing is so much bigger than us, or when we read the pages of God's story and know that He's still writing it right now, with our names penciled in. It's part of that overwhelming sense that just drives us to our knees before the altar. Thankfulness is so much a part of the core of our very creation. We shouldn't have to be reminded to be thankful. We are thankful, by God's own design.

We just have to remember it. 

So today, as we gather...as we count our blessings and name all the beautiful things in our lives, let thankfulness be one of those beautiful things. Let it radiate through your entire being, permeate down to the depths of your core. Let that thread of thanksgiving that runs through all of creation weave its way through your very soul. 

There won't be words to speak. At least, I've never found any. But it's this most incredible feeling. For a moment, for just a moment, in real thankfulness, we touch Eden. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Big Deal

So what's the big deal? Why the emphasis on healing? 

It's simple, really. I've been reading in the Gospels and Acts a lot lately, and do you know the number one reason that persons came to Jesus and to the apostles? It wasn't to hear a fantastic message. It wasn't to hear Him/them stick it to the Pharisees. It wasn't to get miraculous bread broken into thousands of pieces. It wasn't to figure out how to live a good life, or even how to live a great life, or to inquire about the nature of the law and the covenant.

They didn't come for programs and potlucks. They didn't come for youth groups or Bible studies. They didn't come for mission trips and outreach. They didn't come for social standing or something good to put on their resumes. 

The number one reason that persons in the Bible came to Jesus and to the apostles was to be healed. 

Look at it. The Gospels are overwhelmingly healing-centered. Acts has healings scattered quite through it. What the people wanted more than anything else in all the world was to be healed by God. 

Not any more. 

There are a lot of reasons that persons come to church today. There are a lot of reasons that we read our Bibles, pray, fellowship, worship, whatever. There are a lot of reasons that we get involved in the stuff that our churches are doing, and our churches are doing a lot of good stuff. 

But we're not healing persons. 

We're not healing them, and they no longer expect us to. It's not what they're coming for.

Do you realize the magnitude of this? We have, somehow, in just a short 2,000 years, taken the thing that Jesus did most often...and stopped doing it. We have taken what He was known for...and made Him all about other things. Ask someone who walks into your church for the first time this week what Jesus does, and they'll tell you - I don't know. Like Heaven and stuff?

Ask a Christian what Jesus does, and they'll tell you - He redeems us. 

He redeems us! That's what we think Jesus is about. That's what we've made central to His being. 

Jesus came, lived, died, and lived again so that after you've put in your time in this horrible, terrible, crappy life that never gets any better, you can go to Heaven and forget about it. Jesus came, lived, died, and lived again so that your horrible, terrible, crappy life would mean something once it's over. I don't buy it. Not only do I not buy it; I don't see it. I don't see one example of a person in the Gospels running up to Jesus, or the apostles, and saying, "Lord! Please tell me that after I die, my life will have meaning!" 

No! They're running up to Him crying, "Lord, heal me!" 

And He does.

Do you get that? He heals them. Not only does He heal them, but He heals the next guy, too. And the next one. And the next one. And the next one. 

We are surrounded by persons who need Jesus. Not because they need to have eternal salvation or go to Heaven or repent of their sins or whatever, but because they need healed. And we're not healing them. 

Worse still, we're not giving them a Jesus who does, either. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Blink of an Eye

What's cool about healings in the Bible, whether they are performed by Jesus or by one of His disciples or by some other character in God's incredible story, is that they are complete and total and instantaneous.

A paralytic is carried on his mat to Jesus, dropped through a ceiling, then stands up and walks out of there like his legs haven't even atrophied. Just like that. Not only do his legs function, but they are also strong. 

A bleeding woman pushes her way through the crowd to Jesus, touches the edge of His robe, then clots. Just like that. Not only is she no longer unclean, but she's clean through and through.

A hunched over woman stands straight up without a groan. A man with a shriveled hand stretches it out and starts using it again. A deaf man hears the amazed whispers of the crowd. A demon-possessed man sits clothed and in his right mind.

A blind man cries out from the side of the road, and with just a word, sees again. Just like that. In the blink of an eye, darkness to light. And his vision is keen. 

That's not how we think about healing.

For us, healing is a process, not an event. We talk about healing, about all the work that it takes to get well. We talk about all the medications we have to take and how much rest we have to get and how many layers of new skin it will take to cover the wounds of the old flesh. We talk about the days it takes to get our strength back, the weeks it takes to recoup our energies, the years it takes to learn to trust our bodies again. 

We read the headlines and see the stories and watch the miraculous first feeble steps of the seriously-injured, an aide on each side of him as he gingerly rises to his feet. Healing! we say. Incredible! 

Eh. 

But it's what we think of when we think of healing. We think of the struggle. We think of the troubles. We think of the hard work and the sheer exhaustion.

I think the trouble is that we're pretty sure, just as the Pharisees were in Jesus's day, that healing is a "work." It's an effort. It's an energy. It's a task. It's not just something that happens.

It's not just a gift that we receive.

Oh, but it ought to be. Healing ought to be this wonderful, miraculous, incredible gift. It ought to be that we turn to Jesus, the way that men and women always turned to Jesus, and in the blink of an eye...darkness to light. Death to life. Broken to whole. Wounded to well. 

We ought to be crying out from the sides of the road, pushing through the crowds, dropping through the ceilings...and then walking right out of there like we haven't been lying on our mats for the past thirty years.

Because one of the absolute coolest things about Jesus and the healing that He gives us is that He doesn't just make us well; He makes us whole. He doesn't just make us able; He makes us strong. He doesn't just make us live; He makes us thrive. It's real healing. It's real, incredible, powerful, miraculous healing. 

And it's a gift. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

On the Sabbath

We may not be healing each other, but Jesus does. In fact, it's what He most often gets in trouble for in the Gospels - healing persons (which kind of makes you think maybe we're onto something; no healing, no trouble). It's really not that Jesus is healing persons that gets Him in trouble. Even the Pharisees can't reasonably claim they'd rather the blind man stay blind. No, what Jesus gets in trouble for is healing persons on the Sabbath. 

But He kind of has to.

He has to heal persons on the Sabbath because that's the only day that they're not hard at work trying to heal themselves. And if you want to make sure God gets the credit for doing something absolutely amazing, then you have to make sure that there's no way that persons can take the glory for it. 

Think about it - for six days a week, the afflicted are doing everything they can to either manage their affliction or cure it. Blind men are going around trying to make sure they've got all the supports that they need to make it through another week as blind men. The bleeding woman, we're told, exhausted all of her resources trying to find doctors who could make her well. You can bet that the man with the shriveled arm spent a lot of his time trying to figure out what to do about it and that the woman hunched over spent a lot of her time trying to stand up.

All of that stops on the Sabbath. Every bit of it. There's nothing to do for yourself on the Sabbath because there's no one to help you. Doctors aren't working. Pharmacies are closed. The markets are shut down. Persons are not walking through the streets, lest they mistakenly be taken for doing some kind of work. If you need something on the Sabbath, too bad. There's no one to help you, and you certainly can't help yourself. 

That's why when we see Jesus healing someone, we see Him healing them on the Sabbath. On the day of rest, there's no mistaking Who is really at work. 

Funny, isn't it? 

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. On the seventh day, He rested. And then Israel instituted the practice of the Sabbath to remember God's creative rest and to honor it. Even God doesn't work on the Sabbath. He's set the world in motion so that He doesn't have to.

Fast forward a few thousand years, and God's back at work on the Sabbath. It's the only day He can know for sure that He gets the glory. 

No longer is it that creation has been established to work for itself, to stay in motion, to keep going even while God rests. No. Now, God needs creatures to rest so that He can remind them of who He is. He is the One who makes things happen when there's absolutely nothing you could do for yourself. When there's nothing you can do but hold your breath and wait for the next chance to go back at it, God breathes His life back into you, and you're healed. 

Pretty cool, huh?

Friday, November 17, 2017

Gossips and Pharisees

No longer are we healing each other the way that the disciples healed the broken they encountered. No longer are we walking into worship with the wounded, or the formerly wounded. No, like so many of those who were not disciples, we're walking right past them on our way into worship, and then we're doing the most unspeakable of all things - 

We're talking about them.

We're talking about them with those who have come to worship with us, whether they come regularly or have come for the first time. Hey, did you see Joe this morning? Right outside the door, just like always. Begging for a handout. 

Poor guy, we conclude. It must be terrible to have to live life like that. And then, inevitably, someone asks what we mean by that, and we end up telling Joe's whole life story in our temples, as though we have some right to it. We do it without fear because Joe? Joe's stuck outside, and we know that he's not coming in. He's never going to hear the way that we talk about him.

Then, just for good measure, we put Joe on the prayer list. Not because we particularly think that God is going to do anything spectacular for Joe, but because it gives us permission to talk about him more and to pry into his life. Hey, Joe, we're praying for you! we say, although that's not at all what we're doing. We're not praying for Joe; we're praying about Joe. Just so that we can talk about him.

And the more that we pray about Joe, the more we begin to pray like Pharisees. No longer even praying about Joe, but starting to pray about ourselves. O Lord, we thank You so much from the very depths of our beings that we are not like Joe. We thank You that we are free to come in and out of Your worship, that we do not need to depend upon others, that we do not spend our lives begging at Your door, but come full in and receive Your glory...

And on and on and on it goes. And the longer we let ourselves pray about Joe, then pray about ourselves, then determine that we are so far better off than Joe in so many ways, the more we realize that Joe is still there. At the door. Begging. 

Poor guy, we conclude. His life just never changes. 

His life never gets better. His circumstances never change. Every day of worship, there he is, right at the door, begging for a handout. It doesn't take long before all the gossip that we've spoken and heard about Joe starts to get to us and our self-righteous prayers echo deeper and deeper into our empty hearts, and we find one day that we kind of despise Joe. Okay, we really despise Joe. We snub our noses at him, this guy who has spent his entire life at our doorstep without ever coming in. His life never changes. Why? Does he not want it to change?

All of a sudden, we're asking why Joe doesn't just do something better for himself. Why he doesn't at least move doorways. He's been at this one for a long time, and what has it gotten him? Nothing. Nothing at all. 

We never seem to realize that the reason that nothing in Joe's life has changed in the twenty years he's sat by our door is not Joe's fault; it's ours. We have walked right past him for twenty years, stepping over his outstretched legs and dancing around his outstretched hands on our way into worship, never once stopping to offer him what we have most abundantly - the healing power of God-made-flesh. Never once stopping to heal him. Never once stopping to speak the restoration of God into his broken life. 

Some kind of disciples we are. 

Gossips....

Pharisees....