Sunday, November 23, 2014

All Because I Said Thanks

    Below is a Thanksgiving story I wrote in 1982 and recently revised. My hope is that you will use it with family and friends to pause, then give thanks. It is an attempt to get under the obvious of the incident of Jesus and the ten lepers in Luke 17:11-19. 
    WARNING: this is much longer than a normal blog post. Just so you know.
    Why did this happen to me? I’d seen it so many times, but now it is ME! As a doctor I know the prognosis of this all too well. Leprosy is a death sentence, but a very slow death sentence.
     Yellow, red and purple patches appeared on my skin. Eventually I will lose feeling wherever they appear. It will probably move to the inside of my nose, throat and eyes. Eventually my extremities will be completely numb. If I don’t die from injury due to my inability to feel, I will eventually become paralyzed and my muscles will waste away.
     As I said, I may die of injury. Often, because the skin loses the ability to feel anything, a person will cut or burn himself severely and not even realize it. As a result he will lose part of the limb or even his life, bleeding to death or from infection of the untreated wound.
     It’s not a pretty way to live or die. But now it IS ME! ME! Dreaded leprosy has invaded and attacked my body.

     Why God, why? Had I not dedicated my life to treating lepers in need of medical attention? Perhaps my boldness in the face of this dreaded disease was my downfall. But, I thought, surely, if there is a God in Heaven, He will protect me. I had dedicated myself to helping the sick and diseased, to relieve human suffering. Not for the money... God in Heaven knows there was little of that in treating the lowest of the low. I didn’t do it for position or for anything selfish. But now, what use am I? Only 5 years as a doctor and now I am banished from society as a LEPER! It’s not right! It’s not fair! Where, oh, where is God now?

     At first I tried to hide the blotches, tried to deny what was obvious to me but unnoticed by anyone else. I was doing humanitarian work so it must just be a rash, right? It couldn’t, it shouldn’t happen to me. But I knew, oh, I knew I couldn’t stay. In the deafening quiet of those long nights I grappled with what was ahead. I knew I could not risk infecting those I loved, but do you have any idea how hard it is to say good-bye for FOREVER??? FOREVER!! Early one morning I covered my body for one last hug and said good-bye. I couldn’t even touch them one last time, to give my wife a tender kiss, to caress the soft skin of my children. I said goodbye Forever.
     Good-bye to my wonderful, lovely, wife Rachel. The best wife a man could have.
     Good-bye to my 3 year old son, Levi
     Good-bye to my beautiful baby girl, Elizabeth.

     The tears were unstoppable that day. I still weep when I think of my little Jacob calling to me, impossible for him to understand why his daddy had to leave. Tears for the loss of my family and all I knew. Tears because I knew the hopelessness of the life ahead. Tears for the coming struggles of my family without me to provide. No one to support them financially, to love them, protect them, to guide them. Tears because I knew my children would not remember me. Tears because, short of a miracle, I would never see them again. Tears because as with all lepers, no matter how good they are, they are society’s pariahs, outcasts FOR LIFE!!

     That was three years ago. The longest 24 months of my life. I suppose I’m better off than most of the nine men I live with have had the disease much longer. I try to help them as much as I can but I have limited supplies. I’m afraid I don’t have much time left – the disease has covered most of my body and I have little feeling left. Perhaps dying would be a blessing. That’s about all we live for anyway. Just living to die. I’ve thought about taking my own life but it just isn’t in me to do it. No family, no health, no meaningful work, no hope – not much of a life.
     We’ve often discussed what we would do for the man who would heal us. Some say they would bow down and worship him. Others that they would give him half of all they earn the rest of their lives. Still others claim they would be his slave for life. Ah, such dreams and discussions. It doesn’t really matter because it will never happen. But dreaming is something to do and it keeps us from throwing a never ending pity party.

     We’ve heard some talk of a Jewish Messiah traveling around the countryside. People say He performs miracles; you know, things like calming a stormy sea, feeding thousands of people, healing all sorts of diseases, and even raising the dead. CRAZY TALK as far as I’m concerned. Such rumors float around every few years and it always turns out to be bogus hope for people who have nothing. Some of the fellows have latched on to hope in this man – anything to hope for! But it’s empty hope. And besides, since he is a Jew there is no way he would heal a Samaritan like me. Years ago my people and the Jews had a falling out and it’s been brutal hatred ever since. Except with these guys. When you have leprosy it levels things out. All that separate us loses its importance when you’re slowly dying together. But THIS man, I think His Name is Jesus, is NOT a leper and He IS a Jew. If He helps anyone it will be the Jews among us, not a Samaritan.
     Some of the guys heard that this Jesus is coming our way and want to at least get a glimpse of Him. I told them I would tag along, not because I think there’s hope, but because some of the older men need a hand to get around and, frankly, I don’t like to be alone. So we are going. At least it gives us something to do and keeps us from arguing and sulking.
     The trip seems long, even though it isn’t far. The slow pace of the elderly and ill drags it out but we finally arrive outside of the village where Jesus is supposed to pass through. We can’t go in, so we sit 50 yards outside the town, along the road, waiting to see Him when He walks by.
     After a few hours, a small band of people appear in the distance. As they move closer we can see some 10 to 15 men and a few women. Not much of a following for a Messiah if you ask me. One by one the guys get to their feet. Old Hezekiah in the back begins to shout, “Jesus! Have pity on us!” It is only a moment until the others joined in, “Jesus! Have pity on us!” Okay, this is embarrassing – they DID NOT tell me they were going to do this! Don’t they know it is useless? No they don’t.
     I look toward the band of travelers to see how badly this is going to go. I catch only a glimpse of His profile, but I swear I see care mixed with surprise and delight where I expect disdain. And the slightest hint of a mischevious smile breaks across His face. Maybe... Just maybe... You think? Could the guys be on to something? So I join in. What do I have to lose? I’m a dying leper. “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us! Lord, please help us! Jesus, please heal us! Have pity!”
     When Jesus faces us and lifts His head, all yelling suddenly stops. As one we fall silent. Never have we seen such compassion on the face of any man. It is almost as if He is suffering with us, feeling the physical and emotional pain we live with.

     Then He says the strangest thing. “Go show yourselves to the priest.”
     What? You HAVE GOT to be joking. That’s not what He’s supposed to say. It’s supposed to be, “Behold! I will indeed heal you! Be clean!” But, “Go show yourselves to the priest!?” Even a Samaritan knows you only do that AFTER you are healed.
     I stand looking at Him in shock, but the others turn to walk toward the synagogue. Weird, is all I can say. Truthfully, I’m disgusted and dismayed. All this traveling, yelling, pleading, and Jesus skyrocketing my hopes. Then nothing. NOTHING! Go to the priest, my foot. This was the big bust I expected. But I’m with this sorry troop so I go along to help the old and ill fellows. But my mind doesn’t stop whining, “this is crazy. The most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard of. The people in this town are going to stone us before we ever make it to the priests. What a way to die.”

     As we near the edge of town my feet start feeling funny. Not as in “ha, ha,” but as in odd. It’s a sensation like I’ve never felt. It starts at the bottom of my feet and slowly works up my body. It feels, I know you’re not going to believe this, but it feels like someone is scratching the INSIDE of my skin. The rest of the guys stop too. The looks on their faces say all I need to know. Everyone feels it. We must be a sight – a bunch of smelly lepers gawking at one another in the middle of the road with peculiar expressions. After the odd sensation passes, Old Hezekiah looks at me in the oddest way. His eyes go wide and his mouth gapes as he mutters, “Uh... uh... er... I mean...”
     “What’s wrong Hezzy? Spit it out man! You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
     “Your... I mean your... er, your... your ARM!” He finally rasps. You should probably know that the arm he was pointing at was the most infected, ugliest part of my disease. He continues to point and shout,  “The leprosy! It’s gone! You’re healed!”
     I look down and he’s right! I stand staring as the hard drive in my mind cannot process it. Ugly, stinky, deformed one moment and completely perfect the next. Even the rancid smell is gone. When I can finally move I quickly check my feet, legs, stomach. EVERY PLACE I had been infected is healed. EVERY SINGLE PLACE. I didn’t think we could have looked any weirder, but I was wrong. Ten men with ragged clothes standing in the middle of the road lifting sleeves, tunics, under robes to check the places where leprosy had damaged. CLEAN! Every person and every spot. CLEAN! But there’s more: those who were crippled are walking. Those who were deaf, hear. Those who were blind, see. Those who lost fingers and toes have new ones. EVERYTHING is healed. Beyond comprehension. The miracle we had prayed for, dreamed of is no longer a dream. It is reality.
     I thought we couldn’t look weirder, I was wrong. Ten grown men in the middle of the street as giddy as school girls, jumping, screaming, hugging, laughing, crying, grabbing people walking by and showing them our clean skin. You wouldn’t believe the looks, but we didn’t care. This is the greatest day of our lives. THE greatest. NOTHING will ever top this!

     One by one, our energy exhausts and we sit heavily to the ground. Catching our breath, one of the guys says, “Well, I guess we should get on to the priests to be declared OFFICIALLY clean. “
     I start to agree and then freeze. “Wait a minute, “ I object. “Aren’t we forgetting something here? First we need to go back to Jesus to thank Him for what He has done. This IS a miracle after all.”
     “But I DESERVED to be healed!” says Amos. “I have been a leper for 3 years. Why should I be grateful. It was God’s fault in the first place that I needed to be healed!”
     All the guys shake their head in agreement with Amos.”But He didn’t HAVE to heal us,” I insist.
     “And besides, don’t you remember what you said you would do for the man who healed you – bow to worship Him, be His slave for life, give half your income for life? What about that?”
     “But what He told us to do was to go show ourselves to the priest,” remarks Isaac, one of the younger men. “He did not tell us to return to thank Him. We need to get to the priest.”
     “Yeah, we’ll thank God at the synagogue,” reasoned Benjamin, obviously anxious to get home.
     I refuse to give in. “But this Jesus fellow is the One we ought to thank. Obviously He is from God, but He is the One who gave us back our lives.”
     “Look, we want to get back to our families and our lives ASAP.” Anger is beginning to show in their voices. “If you want to take the time to go all the way back, track down Jesus, take the time to thank Him for something God should have done for us a long time ago and then come all the way back to the priest, that’s your business. Besides, who are you, a Samaritan, to tell us what to do anyway? C’mon fellas, let’s hit the road.”
     “Hold it! You don’t know what you are doing! You are turning your backs on the very Man to whom you owe your life! Change your minds. Come with me. It won’t take that long! We’ve got the rest of our lives. Don’t do something you will regret. It’s not too late, my friends! Turn back!”
     “We are not your friends, Samaritan!” Shouts Benjamin as they continue to walk.
     I stand there shaking my head. It is no use. They just keep walking. Several pause for a moment as they look back, as if they know I am right, but in the end all nine keep walking away.

     Numb, I watch until they are out of sight in the village. How can anyone who has been given so much be so ungrateful? We have been given so much, given so very, very much. It begins to sink in just HOW MUCH. I have been given a new life, a new body, rescued from certain death, a new career, a new chance with my family.
     MY FAMILY! I have my family back! My little Elizabeth, she will be walking now, with teeth, talking. My young Levi. Wow! He’s 6 now. How he must have grown. And my wonderful Rachel. Rachel... Her face fills my mind as the tears stream down my face.
     I laugh out loud and long. Won’t they be surprised! I can’t wait to see the look on Rachel’s face when I walk into our home. To feel her sweet kiss and embrace. To play ball with my Levi. To hold my Elizabeth on my lap. MY FAMILY!

     Literally I HAVE BEEN GIVE A NEW LIFE! A new medical practice. A new home. A new everything. I OWE EVERYTHING TO JESUS. For the first time in 3 years there is hope and life and beauty and wonder. But before I go back to all of that, I have to find Jesus. I HAVE to find Jesus. The most important thing in my life right now is to say THANK YOU.

     With every step a wave of the richness of what Jesus has done washes over me. Stronger and deeper. He didn’t just take away the leprosy, He brought me back to life! HE BROUGHT ME BACK TO LIFE!
     Gratitude wells up from deep within. It grows and grows and grows until I feel like I will come apart. If I try to hold it in I will die, so out it comes...
            “Glory to God!
            Praise the Lord for all His blessings!
            All honor and power be to Jehovah
            He is wonderful, marvelous, loving and kind
            His goodness is from everlasting to everlasting
            His mercy has no beginning and no end!”

     People cross to the other side of the road as I pass by. “Another lunatic,” they mutter but I don’t care. Two Roman soldiers even lift their spears as I skip by, afraid it is a trick. I don’t care. Life is good! I AM HEALED!

     Finally I spot Jesus and dash toward Him with all my strength and speed, shouting praises. Before His disciples can react I fall (it was actually more of a dive) at His feet. “Thank you, Lord Jesus. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so very, very much. You don’t realize what great things you have done for me. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

     I feel His hand on my shoulder and I stop babbling my thanks. “Were not all ten cleansed?” I hear Him ask. I start to answer, but, as I look up, I realize He is not expecting an answer. He is pleading with all mankind. Deep sadness is etched into His face. The brokenness of His heart expressed in His words almost break me. Who would have thought ingratitude could affect such a man as this? From each eye slips a tear, gently etching a clean crease down His dusty face.
     “Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” No bitterness as speaks the word “foreigner”. No anger toward me, but it feels like He is hurting as much for a dearly loved Someone as for Himself.
     Jesus reaches down, takes my hands and gently raises me to my feet. His eyes meet mine as He says, “Go, your faith has made you well.” I begin to walk away, then it occurs to me, “What an odd thing to say... your faith has saved you.”
     I look back at the same time He glances in my direction. There is that twinkle in His eye and mischievous grin on His face again. He nods as if to say, “Yeah, you heard me right. Your faith has made you well.”

     Another sensation shoots through my body, different from the first but just as powerful. Instead of physical healing, it is a warmth of joy, peace, love and a strange assurance that I will never again be alone. Made well. Honestly, I don’t understand it, but it is good and I know I have been changed.
     A new lease on life through healing. A new life through salvation.

     I have a new life. He healed my body, returned my family, resumed my career, and instilled hope. All those physical things that were of such importance to me when I was a leper have been returned. Funny thing is, since I have them back, I believe I could do without them... now that I’ve met Jesus
     It is what He did when I went back to say thanks that has truly transformed me in inexplicable ways. It’s like He’s still with me. And you know, I think He is. No, no... I am SURE there is a part of Him still in the depths of my soul.
     And He was right, I will never been alone again.

     And to think... it is all because I simply said, “Thank you.”

1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NIV) give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

    There is ALWAYS something to thank God for. Always.

Here’s a prayer to help:
“We thank you, Lord, IN all circumstances...
     for the many blessings you have provided,
     for the hard things we’ve been through,
     for the times we watched You show up,
     for the times we didn’t understand, and still don’t,
     for the good things we see and those we do not,
     for what we haven’t lost but could have
     for the little and big that we take for granted
     for the air we breathe, the food we eat, the shelter over our heads,
     for the people we love, the work we do
     for the days of laughter, the days of tears and the days of ordinary
In all these circumstances and in so many more, we say THANKS!”

© Herb Shaffer 1982, revised 2014

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Pondering the Last Week of Jesus, part 4

Sundown on Friday began the Jewish Sabbath when nothing could be done.  Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were both of them members of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council.  Can you imagine the distress they endured when Jesus was before the Sanhedrin? On Friday as the sun was setting they had laid the body of Jesus into a tomb. 
And then all who knew Jesus mourned. 

Imagine what Jesus’ mother and brothers felt, dozing off only to awaken, screaming from the pictures of terror anew. 
Imagine what Jesus’ disciples felt, replaying their betrayal again and again.  The arguments that inevitably resulted from the hole in their gut. 
Imagine the delight of the Jewish leaders and all the demons of Hell thinking they had won.
Most of all, think of the delight of Jesus and the Father reunited again.  The pain behind.  The victory won, though only Heaven knew. A glorious day.  And perhaps, just perhaps, they were thinking of us - like a parent on Christmas Eve who found the perfect gift, who can’t wait to see it unwrapped, to see the child’s eyes get big, to hear the squeal of delight.  Because they knew what Easter would bring.

Saturday was the depths of despair for the humans who loved Jesus.
Saturday was the height of delight for those who opposed Jesus.
Saturday was the reunion of all reunions for the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Are you ready for Easter? To receive the best gift from the God Who loves you beyond comprehension.

Ponder on these things and thank Him as you think of Jesus last week.

Boldly, Pastor Herb

Friday, April 18, 2014

Pondering the Last Week of Jesus, part 3

I apologize for not getting Thursday’s installment to you.  Here is both THURSDAY and FRIDAY.

Thoughts to help you pause, appreciate and experience more deeply Jesus’ final week on earth in human form.  And thus, experience Easter Sunday more fully. As you read these, try to put yourself in Jesus’ place: how would you feel, what would you be thinking, how would you act?  Then thank Jesus for all He went through for us, for you.

Jesus wanted to spend the last meal with his twelve closest friends, and so He instructed a couple of them to prepare the Passover Meal.  Perhaps He connected the dots, thinking about Himself as THE Lamb that would save the world.  At dinner (which was hours long), He washed the disciples feet, (John 13), telling them He was leaving them to be servants to others as He was a Servant.

Another distress was Jesus’ knowledge that Judas was about to betray Him and that ALL the disciples would abandon Him AND that the leader of the group, Peter, would deny Him three times.  THINK about that. ALL of them.  He would go through the mocking, kangaroo courts and abuse TOTALLY ALONE.
         When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.” They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely not I?” “It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”
       “You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: “ ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.” 30“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.” Mark 14:17–21, 27-30 (NIV)

At the end of the dinner, Jesus instituted communion.  Think about how He felt as He thought about how His body would be broken and His blood would be shed.
       While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. “I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God.” When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Mark 14:18–26 (NIV)

We cannot comprehend what Jesus experienced in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He was facing the agony of some of the worst physical pain, but the deepest pain was facing the penalty of sin: separation from God.  That was the greatest suffering and it was literally torture for Jesus.  Medical experts tell us that sweating blood is an indication that a person is close to death.  That is what Jesus experienced in prayer.  And He was doing all this for US!!!!
       They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Mark 14:32–36 (NIV)

Just as Jesus finishes the agonizing prayer, Judas arrives with soldiers to betray Him with a kiss. WITH A KISS!! We can hear the anguish in His words.
        While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” Luke 22:47–48 (NIV)

Jesus is arrested late in the evening. His trials went into the wee hours of Friday morning.

Jesus is taken before the Sanhedrin (the Jewish Supreme Court). They look for evidence against and could not find a thing. Not a single thing.  Even as they got false witnesses to testify against Him, they couldn’t get their story straight.  Jesus stood before them silent.  Until the high priest asked Him directly.
        But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. “You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” They all condemned him as worthy of death. Mark 14:61–64 (NIV)

And then the abuse began.
        Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, “Prophesy!” And the guards took him and beat him. Mark 14:65 (NIV)

The Jewish leaders were prohibited from executing a person, so they hauled Jesus to Pilate.  When he found out Jesus was from Galilee, Pilate sent Jesus to Herod, who wanted Jesus to perform miracles for him.
       When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform some miracle.He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. Luke 23:8–11 (NIV)

Hauled back before Pilate again with the Jewish leaders hounding, accusing, demanding Jesus’ death.  This governor took the responsibility seriously, asking Jesus if He was king of the Jews. Jesus admitted He was, but when the Jewish leaders chimed in He again refused to answer them.  Pilate wanted to set Him free, but the people chose Barabbas, the rebellious leader of an insurrection.  Feeling he had no choice, Pilate condemned Jesus to be crucified.
        “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them. “Crucify him!” they shouted. “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. Mark 15:12–15 (NIV)

While Jesus was enduring the Sanhedrin’s abuse, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times.  Think about how Jesus must have felt as Jesus looked at Peter...
         About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.” Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly. Luke 22:59–62 (NIV)

         The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him. Mark 15:16–20 (NIV)

Again, there is no way we can comprehend what Jesus’ endured for the six hours on the cross.  SIX HOURS!  360 AGONIZING MINUTES.  Take time to read it from one of the Gospels.  Slowly consider the pain of the spikes through His wrists and feet.  The circle of thorns pressed down on His head.  The weight of His body compressing His lungs and pushing against the spikes in His feet.  The sun beating down on Him.  Birds landing and pecking at His flesh.  And yet He was concerned about His mother and the thieves on the crosses beside Him. 


         And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
      With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. Mark 15:34, 37 (NIV)

Take time this day to consider these things.
Take time to express your love and gratitude for what Jesus did.

Boldly, Pastor Herb