It had been a tough life for the Samaritan man. His people were already looked down upon in Jewish society, but then came the fateful diagnosis: leprosy. It not only meant a slow death, but also quarantine. Not just rejected, he was now cast out of society entirely.
But then everything changed when the man called Jesus came to town. With his fellow lepers, he cried out to the Master. Jesus not only heard, but He responded. He healed them and sent them to the priests. And, awed at their healing, they rushed away -- all but one.
When he saw he had been healed, the Samaritan immediately rushed back. The man who had faced so much rejection could help himself no longer -- he threw himself at the feet of Jesus and worshipped Him, filled with gratitude. When Jesus saw his thankfulness, He acknowledged the fact that he was the only one who had returned to give thanks. And then He said the most incredible words: "Arise, go thy way, thy faith hath made thee whole." (Luke 17:19).
The Samaritan leper's story is such a powerful example of what thankfulness can do in our lives. All of the lepers were healed of leprosy, but the disease had left its impact on them. Their bodies still bore the marks, even though the disease had been cast out. But when the Samaritan's heart overflowed with gratitude, he was made whole. It was more than healing. It was a step beyond. Healing can bring an end to pain, but gratitude has the tremendous power to restore and to make us feel whole, even in the midst of trials.
“Roll away the stone.” It was a simple command, but Lazarus's friends gave the usual protests: “He’s already dead.” “He’s been in there too long.” “He’s pretty smelly at this point.” But Jesus would not move forward with the miracle until the stone was rolled away.
On the surface, it seems like an odd request. If you know the story of Lazarus, as soon as the stone was rolled away, Jesus said, “Lazarus, come forth,” and a man who had been dead for three days came walking out of the tomb. If Jesus could bring Lazarus back to life, why did He need Lazarus’ friends to roll the stone away? Couldn’t He have moved the stone with His little finger? Or with just a look or a word? But Lazarus’ friends were the ones who sealed the grave, and so they had to be the ones to roll the stone away.
In our own lives, there are hurts and fears that we hide away. We beg Jesus to see us, to help us, and to heal what is broken. There is not a cry that He does not hear or a life He does not want to save, but He asks one thing of us: “Roll away the stone.” Could He do it Himself? Of course. He would have no trouble forcing His way into your heart and into your life. But that simply is not His way.
We often have a lot of excuses as to why we keep our pain hidden away: “My hope is already dead.” “It’s just been too long — I can’t imagine a different life.” “I’m too ashamed." But He sees and loves through every excuse. He can bring new life from even the most hopeless of situations, if only we will roll away the stone.
For the last two weeks we have been exploring four important altars in Abraham's life. Abraham built his first altar in a place of strength and his second altar between the house of God and ruin. It was at this altar where he could return for repentance and renewal after making mistakes. Abraham's third altar was built in a place called Mamre, a place of blessing.
First, the word Mamre has to do with fatness or abundance. Mamre was a place of blessing, and God had indeed blessed Abraham in some incredible ways. This altar reflected those blessings of God. There are moments in our lives when we spend time at the altar simply because we want to worship God and thank Him for what He has done for us. Altars are wonderful places for praise and worship. It is vital that we create altars in our lives where we can acknowledge the great things God has done for us and give Him thanks.
It was in Mamre, the site of Abraham's third altar, that he received a visit from the strangers and where God confirmed that at long last he would receive his son. But before the visitors ever brought him the news, Abraham had already built a place of praise. Sometimes in life we have to praise God not only for what He has done, but for what He is about to do. Abraham's praise preceded his promise. There is something powerful that happens when we praise God in advance.
Last week, we began to explore the first of four important altars in Abraham's life. Abraham built his first altar in a place of strength. As he continued to follow God across the wide lands ahead, Abraham arrived at a new place of rest: a spot between Bethel (the house of God) and Hai (ruin). It was here that he built his second altar.
Around this time, a famine ravaged the land, and Abraham gave in to fear. Instead of trusting God to provide, he rushed to Egypt, lied to the pharaoh, and brought dishonor upon himself and his family. Still, God provided for him and even blessed him beyond measure. After his sojourn in Egypt, Abraham returned to the place of that second altar, the one he had built between the house of God and ruin. Before he ventured any further or attempted anything else in his life, we read that he took a moment at the altar to call on the name of the Lord (Genesis 13:4).
Like Abraham, we will all come to a place between the house of the Lord and a place of ruin. In fact, we spend most of our lives in this space in between. We are faced with a few options. We can give in to ruin, or we can pitch our tents toward Bethel, the house of God, and build an altar there. Even though we may fall sometimes, giving in to the fear and temptation that surround us, we can follow the example of Abraham and make our way back to that altar that we once knelt at, gaining renewed strength in the presence of God.
Abraham is often referred to as the Father of the Faithful. The first patriarch, he is a model of faith and steadfast trust in God. God called Abraham to leave everything he knew and to lead a nomadic life, all the while believing that God would fulfill the promises He had made to him. In Abraham's life, we read about four important altars.
Abraham built his first altar to God after God had made the first part of His covenant with Abraham. He built this altar in a place called Sichem, a name that means shoulder (strength). The name of the place reflected the situation Abraham found himself in. He had a journey ahead, the journey of a lifetime, in fact, and he needed strength from God to continue on the pathway.
There is something so powerful about an altar. While we often think of the altar as a place to repent (and indeed it is a wonderful place for repentance), the biblical altar is so much more. In Abraham's case, the altar he built to worship was not built out of shame for a sin he had committed, but rather it became a place for him to gain strength. In living for God, it is vital that we have altars in our lives. It is at the altar where we receive strength -- for the day, the week, the year, and beyond. It is where we gain courage to face the struggles of life. It is where our weakness meets God's might, and we gain all that we need to continue on the path He has set before us.
In the articles to come, we will explore the remaining altars of Abraham and how they continue to impact our lives today.
The timeless hymn, "Love Lifted Me" offers a beautiful reminder of how Jesus can save from even the stormiest seas life can throw at us.
He saved Noah from the raging waters through preventative measures. Noah built an ark and never had to experience the feeling of being overtaken by the waves.
He saved Peter from the raging waters even as the disciple walked to Him across the sea. Peter stood in a place of transition, partly atop the waves, and partly under. And yet Jesus still was able to reach him.
He saved Jonah from the raging waters even though he had fallen far beneath the ocean's surface. When Jonah thought he had fallen too far, that he might never see the sky again, God prepared a fish to keep him safe even in the deepest and darkest waters until he could find a place of repentance and mercy.
We experience the same raging waters on many levels in our own lives.
Sometimes we are able to prevent falling prey to the flood. Sometimes we are walking on top of the water, making our way to Jesus. Sometimes we make mistake after mistake and feel completely inundated with the stormy seas of life.
We worry that we have fallen too deep, as if God's arm cannot reach quite that far. But Isaiah 59:1 offers us the beautiful reminder, "Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear."
God sees us, and He can save no matter how far above or below the storm you may be.
It was an unusual coronation day in Judah. The robe and crown were ready, but they were much smaller than usual, sized to fit the tiny head and small shoulders of an eight-year-old king. Josiah, the child king of Judah, was faced with a difficult situation. His people had turned away from God after generations of wicked leadership.
Josiah needed help. He could have sought out the greatest warriors to keep the kingdom safe. He could have sought out the greatest spokesmen to inspire the people. He could have sought out inventors to bring about a technical revolution. But Josiah knew what the nation needed most was a teacher.
As he began to restore the temple that had fallen into ruins, Josiah came across a set of scrolls, the divine Scriptures that had long been forgotten. They needed someone to interpret the words of God, and so Josiah sent for a teacher named Huldah, a woman who he hoped would be able to guide him. Huldah was not the woman his advisors wanted, but she was exactly what the kingdom needed. She taught the young king about his heritage and, more importantly, about his God, and her teachings inspired and equipped a young boy to lead his nation back to God.
He could have chosen anyone: a warrior, a spokesman, an inventor, but he knew that if he were truly going to turn his world around, it would take a true superhero: it would take a teacher.
Deep in Sonoma County, California, a potter named Hugh Hope paints invisible designs on the surface of a platter. It looks odd to the casual observer, this artist who sits alone with his vessel, painting patterns that no one can see. The magic of Hope's work, however, is revealed when he begins the second step of the process.
Once the timing is right, he dips his brush into a bit of red iron oxide and gently grazes the platter. The scarlet hue spreads across the surface, coloring the vessel, but, more importantly, revealing the secret design that Hope painted with his invisible wax. The designs rest quietly on the surface, unseen by the average observer, until the master potter applies the color. The iron oxide suddenly reveals the potter's artwork in all its beauty.
So often when we are on the Potter's wheel, it is easy to look at other vessels and wonder what God is doing with us. We can see Him working, but it does not seem like anything is happening. It is easy to get impatient and even disheartened. Sometimes we start to question what He is doing in our lives.
But the work of the Master Potter is not always apparent on the surface. He works with deft hands and skilled practice.So many of His most beautiful designs are the ones He creates with invisible wax, painting intricately and invisibly, until the moment He applies the iron oxide, and suddenly our eyes are opened to the masterpiece He has been crafting us to be.
Far away in the Land of the Rising Sunlives lives a school of Japanese potters who specialize in the art of kintsugi (golden journey). Their art form does not focus on forming perfect pottery with beautiful patterns or shapes, but on repairing broken pottery to highlight the journey of each piece. The beauty of their work is in the brokenness. After gathering up the broken pieces, they restore the vessel with gold, silver, or platinum lacquer. They use the most costly minerals on earth to bind the broken places.
The beauty of a kintsugi vessel is in the striking maps of its broken places.
The art of kintsugi tells us so much about how God sees brokenness. One of the most beautiful passages in the Bible on the topic of brokenness is Psalm 51, wherein David the king falls on his face before God in repentance. He has just realized how much he has failed God, his people, and himself. He stands before his Lord, utterly broken. But in the midst of his brokenness, he lifts his voice in faith, declaring,
"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart— these, O God, You will not despise" (17).
Indeed, God did not turn David away simply because he had failed. He repaired and restored him, just as He continues to do with us today. Brokenness does not exclude us from God's love, power, or plan. He simply asks that, instead of trying to hide it in the shadows, that we bring it before Him so that He can do what He does best: lovingly repair us, not hiding the cracked and chipped places, but showcasing them in beauty so that our lives will forever testify of Him.
"When I could not reach mercy, mercy came running to me." (PCD)
I have been blessed with an old dog. I've had her since her puppy years, and she is a constant source of joy. When she was younger, she would run to the door as soon as I came home. She was never self-conscious. She didn't worry about whether or not I wanted to see her. She was overjoyed to see me.
Now she is 21, and, while she is still thrilled to see me, it's a different experience. Her joints ache and there's a little less pep in her step. Sometimes she makes it to the door, walking gingerly, but just as happy I'm home. Sometimes, though, her little legs are just too tired and she sits on the couch, waiting for me to come to her. And I always do. I loved her when she was strong and I love her every bit as much when she is weak. I just love to spend time with her.
Hebrews 4:16 gives us instructions on how to approach God: we can come boldly before Him. Sometimes I do, since I am just so excited to spend time with Him. But then there are other situations, moments when I am weak and hurting. I want to come before Him, but I am so weighed down with the cares of life that I feel I don't have the strength. But I am so glad for Hebrews 4:15, which reminds me that God is "touched with the feeling of [my] infirmities" -- He loves me even when I am weak.
Like the beautiful song says, when I could not reach Him, He came running to me. When I am weak, He reaches for me, and in Him I become strong once again.