And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.”
Let me ask you… is it more impressive that Jesus forgave the man’s sins or gave him the ability to walk? If you’re a Christian, you know the “correct” answer is that he forgave the man’s sins. However, the paralyzed man was brought to Jesus to be healed of his physical ailments and not to be forgiven of his sins. We ourselves would be upset if Jesus didn’t heal our ability to walk. If Jesus only healed the man’s legs, at first he would be ecstatic, but it would only take a month or two before he felt the same eternal longings he felt before, leading him to turn to something else to fill that emptiness.
We all have things we think we need more than Jesus: this is called idolatry. An idol is literally anything you worship other than God. Sometimes I believe that if only I had a husband, my life would be perfect. Obviously this is false, but there are times when I let that be the driving force in my life, and not Jesus. The second most important commandment God asks of us in Exodus 20 is to have no other God before him, yet we mess that up every day. God tells us not to have idols because he knew we will!
I once heard a sermon by the Austin Stone Church pastor Matt Carter that acknowledges we all struggle with idols. He says idols aren’t things like working, money, or drinking -- those are all symptoms of something bigger. Instead, he believes there to be 4 main root idols in which all sins originate from: comfort, power, approval, and control. Essentially he’s saying all things we long for fall into one of these 4 categories. When we crave Whataburger or an afternoon of binge-watching Netflix, we are longing for (1) comfort. When we get mad when our accomplishments aren’t recognized at work/school, we are longing for (2) power. When we are upset when we aren’t invited to a party we are longing for (3) approval. When we don’t like deviating from our set schedule, we are longing for (4) control. There are many other ways in which idols rear their ugly heads in our lives, these are just some common examples.
I think recognizing them is the first step toward repentance. I personally struggle with letting the approval of others come before my desire for God’s approval. And after a long day, I want to be comforted by being alone and watching “Friends” instead of resting in the presence of Jesus. Idols can even be good things, like exercising or saving money, but those things shouldn’t be what we live for, God should be. God should always be first in our lives. Wherever you are today, run to Jesus. He may or may not fix your present circumstances, but he will fulfill the deepest longings of your soul.
Written by Alexa
When I was a freshman in college, I felt very far from God. I had gone almost 7 months without going to church, without having any Christian friends, and without being a part of a ministry group, which was far from my Christian upbringing. I felt like I had forgotten about my relationship with God, or worse, that He had forgotten about me. Even though I was completely unaware of how lonely I was at the time, I knew something important was missing in my life. And the longer I went without God, the farther I got away from Him with my words and actions. Then one day a friend in my math class invited me to her Bible study.
I showed up to the study, weary of what would be said and fearful of feeling like an outsider. The speaker, Josh, set up an insane situation where he had us imagine being on a plane that was going down. He said, “You only have 1 more minute of life before the plane crashes. You are thinking about your life. Do you believe you are going to heaven?” And he went a step further: “If you think that you would go to heaven, raise your hand.” Wow, this was not a good week to decide to come to this Bible study.
Since this was basically a room of believers, everyone in the room raised their hand. Except for me. I felt like I wasn’t worthy of going to heaven since I had ignored God for so long. At that moment, envelopes containing a single piece of paper were handed out to each person. I heard a collective grumble as everyone else opened their envelopes, so I held back on opening mine. Every person’s envelope said the word “Hell.” Josh said this was not real, just a means of humbling us and a conversation starter. However, Josh looked confused and asked, “Wait… who got the one different envelope?” I read my piece of paper and it said “Heaven.” I was the one person not to raise my hand and yet the one person whose paper said Heaven. I have never felt God speak to me more clearly than in that moment. He went out of his way to find the person furthest from Him and said, “I want you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
I think this is a lot like the story of Zacchaeus. He was an outcast because of his profession: tax collector. He was infamous for being a crook and stealing people’s money. However, the Gospel of Luke describes Zacchaeus as being curious about Jesus. He went to town where Jesus was passing by, and when he couldn’t get past the crowd, he climbed up a tree and literally went out on a limb for Jesus, just like me going out on a limb and showing up for the Bible study. And it paid off for Zacchaeus as well: Jesus looked directly at Zacchaeus, invited him to come down, and asked Zacchaeus to dine with him that evening. In return, Zacchaeus repented and repaid all the money he had stolen!
Luke 19:10 declares: “For the son of man came to seek and save the lost.” The Bible doesn’t say seek and save the perfect. And I think that’s all of us out there. None of us has it all together—we all equally need Jesus today. Let’s all go out on a limb for Jesus; you might just be surprised to see how He shows up.
Written by Alexa
How expressing thanks opens us up to God's grace.
Written by Eric Demeter
It’s almost unbelievable that Jesus heals 10 lepers in Luke 17 simultaneously. Without fanfare, He simply commands the motley crew, “Go, show yourselves to the priest.” They exit stage-left and their skin is restored.
Jesus certainly missed an opportunity there to make a big, impressive scene. The Lord was never concerned with aggrandizement. What was unbelievable to Him, however, was the lack of thankfulness from the former lepers. Only one makes a U-turn to thank Him for His tremendous miracle.
As the Bible records, “When he saw he was healed, he came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan” (v. 15-16).
Jesus was shocked and asked, “Were not 10 cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
The unfortunate result was that 90 percent of the lepers missed the second, more important gift Jesus had planned for them. To the lone, grateful Samaritan He responded, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” Even more important than physical health, this person’s spiritual life had been restored.
Scripture doesn’t tell us why the other lepers failed to praise God. Yet it’s clear from Jesus’s response that thankfulness was the only proper response to the miracle.
What About When We Suffer?
Gratitude flows easily when we’ve landed our dream job or just fell head-over-heels for a potential mate. And it’s easy to lift up some heavenly appreciation when we only receive a warning (instead of a ticket) for speeding. But what about when we don’t get our way? Or what about when tragedy strikes? Can we still be thankful then?
Indeed, life is not always a buffet of delicious circumstances where we get to pick and choose which items we put on our plate. Sometimes we get served a dish of lemons.
Fortunately, Christian gratitude doesn’t require us to “turn our lemons into lemonade”—a cliché that might be found in some cheesy self-help book. Certainly, painful events can shape us and build our character, but that doesn’t mean we have to simply smile through the pain and pretend everything’s fine.
A theology of gratitude that doesn’t allow for grief is at best misguided, if not downright egregious. Can you imagine a passerby saying to Jesus on Calvary “turn that frown upside-down”?
Ingesting life’s difficulties and tragic events can be overwhelming. Having a heart of gratitude, therefore, is not about looking at the bright side of things. And it’s not even acknowledging that things could be worse. Our thankfulness is never to be based on a set of circumstances. It’s based on a Person.
The answer to our pain and suffering isn’t new circumstances but God Himself. Jesus came, not only to suffer for us, but to suffer with us. Isaiah describes Christ as being: “Despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief” (53:3).
Jesus understands our pain and empathizes with us.
Practicing gratitude rests soundly in the assuredness that God will ultimately redeem every horrible situation in this life or the next. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
This promise allows us to “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
Yet it’s easy to miss God’s current blessings when pain overwhelms us, however. I’ve shaken my fist toward heaven more than once in agony. Even so, God will never take away His gifts. He’s that good. If I were in Jesus’ shoes, on the other hand, I’d probably replace the nine leper’s healings with nine nasty curses. Or, at bare minimum, I’d unheal them all. That’ll show ‘em to be thankful!
But it was love, not intimidation that drew one Samaritan to unwrap the gift of eternity. Saying “thank you” will always reveal unseen blessings. We can’t control the Giver, but we can always expect one gift: the power to hope.
Then, we’ll receive other common events like watching sunsets, eating dinner with a friend or sleeping in a comfortable bed as undeserved blessings. In practicing gratitude, every day is a treasure hunt.
This article was originally published by RELEVANT magazine on December 10, 2015.
This post continues part 3 of our 3-part series based on Matthew 22:36-40:
The 12:12 Project is sponsored by Katy First United Methodist Church.