Grace Yields Gratitude

God and Country, First Baptist of Lexington, VA_LynnAbbott_11x14Oil© 2016 Lynn Abbott

I opened my email inbox this morning…

Uh, huh. You already know what I found there:  hundreds of “Black Friday” announcements.

You’ve received your fair share as well.

Yup.  It’s started:  that Mad, Madison Avenue, Holiday Rush.  Retailers court consumers during what has become the biggest spending season of the year.

Gift giving abounds.  And I’m glad that people take the time to demonstrate love toward one another and toward others who are less fortunate.  It truly is a wonderful time of year.

But I’m sure we can all agree that it gets a little crazy sometimes.

Not surprising.

Apparently, most retailers run in the red until the last several months of every year.  It’s no wonder the push to shop begins earlier and earlier.  Business owners, after all, look to provide for their families as well.

Thus,  this day before Thanksgiving, the advertising assault begins.  And so it is that you and I are encouraged to accumulate more,

to buy more,

to wish for more,

to long for more,

to fulfill more expectations

and ultimately to spend more.

Perhaps, like me, you find yourself scrambling each Christmas to please others or to live up to their unspoken expectations, real or otherwise.

Or maybe, you have spent hours combing the retail landscape for that special “must-have” item for your young or adult child…

Keeping up with the latest trends, or making everyone happy seems to be the overwhelming burden of the season.

And ironically, Thanksgiving Day inaugurates these weeks of retail acquisition. It’s almost laughable…our day of gratitude marks the beginning of our quest for more.

But sadly, it’s easy to lose thanks giving in the midst of all the Christmas hustle.

As I begin my annual decorating on Saturday night after Thanksgiving, one of my favorite Christmas songs will play softly.  It’s a tradition for me.

“…we can find grace, mercy and forgiveness
He has come to save, He is all of these…

You’re the Savior we’ve been praying for.
In our humble hearts, You will dwell
You are in us, You are for us, You are with us, Emmanuel…” ~Casting Crowns

The lyrics  will gently fill my home. I’ll stop my work for a moment and inhale the quiet.

God and Country, First Baptist of Lexington, VA_LynnAbbott_11x14OilThose moments of quiet will remind me to guard against allowing my seasonal busy-ness to blur the essential.

Blinded by an avalanche of expectations, I tend to simply push through the holiday “storm.”

But in the silence of my Saturday-after-Thanksgiving ritual, I will revisit what I learned eight years ago…

I will recall what it means to live each moment in simple gratitude for God’s grace…

Yeah, cancer has a way of putting life in perspective.

And as I recall my brush with death, I also ponder and reflect upon truths revealed by one of my favorite Biblical accounts of Christ’s miraculous healing.

In Luke 17, Jesus traveled to Jerusalem; he moved, in fact, toward his ultimate earthly mission.

He and his disciples planned to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem. You could say that at that time, the Passover brought Israel together just as Thanksgiving brings the United States together today.

People traveled great distances to celebrate the holy day.

It was a season of gratitude, remembering the way Yahweh had delivered the nation of Israel from the tenth plague in Egypt.

It was a national holiday celebrating all that God had done for them; all of Israel remembered their protection by God from the plague of death that visited the first-born of Egypt (Exodus 12:21-41).

In fact, God had not only protected the fledgling nation, but He had also lead them to freedom.

Thus, on Passover, families gathered to break bread together, to remember Yahweh’s provision and His grace, and to offer thanks.

Specifically, they remembered the sacrificial lamb whose blood marked their doors in Egypt, identifying their faith in and dependence upon Yahweh.

The angel of death had passed over those whose households were identified with the blood of the lamb.

The Passover Lamb.

God and Country, First Baptist of Lexington, VA_LynnAbbott_11x14OilAnd so, in Luke 17, Jesus returned to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Yes, He knew what awaited him there. As I read the Gospels, it becomes clear that He journeyed with a heavy heart.

His mission, although motivated by the deepest of love for you and me, would require everything from Him.

Yet, on this journey, somewhere between Samaria and Galilee, He stopped to give grace and healing.

Luke tells us that as He entered a village, ten leprous men called to Jesus from a distance. Leprosy was the death sentence of its day…slowly, wasting away, these men were set apart and their lives irretrievably altered by their disease.

They lived outside normal. Their disease required a different life for them. For them, there were no white picket fences in Samaria or Galilee. They lived on the outskirts.

They became a community, a collection of lepers. And that day, they buoyed one another as they made a bold request.

I can relate to that. Cancer impacts people in a similar way.

One early winter morning, I became especially aware of this when I answered the persistent buzz of the doorbell. The delivery driver smiled, and brought in my new chair. A comfy chair becomes nearly a necessity when you are so very sick.

I thanked him profusely for setting the chair in place.

Before the driver left, he turned to me and said, “You’re one of mine, aren’t you?”

I gave him a puzzled look.

He nodded, acknowledging my confusion. Then, he removed his ski cap, and proudly displayed a head of newly grown, albeit very short, hair.

I suddenly smiled in recognition and also nodded, noting my own knit cap. Thus launched a discussion of what one of my friends has labeled, “camp chemo.”

Not only did we compare hair growth, but we also shared our own brand of medical humor.

God and Country, First Baptist of Lexington, VA_LynnAbbott_11x14OilWe’d brushed with death, walked the cold valleys, and sounded the depths of our souls. And yet, we survived.

A word, a knowing smile and a warm, compassionate touch of hand to shoulder communicated more than a year’s worth of dinner conversations. In those brief moments, a man from another city in another part of the state became my brother.

Without a doubt, chemo makes it impossible to ignore the illness. A cancer patient stands out.

And even though some wear wigs and do their best to put a good face on things, the battle within still rages.

Although cancer patients do not suffer in the same way as lepers nor are they generally isolated from the rest of the population, their symptoms certainly signal an immune system under attack.

Cancer, of course, results from damaged or rogue cells whereas leprosy begins as an infection.

Yet, left unchecked, both cancer and leprosy lead to death.

The ten lepers that day on the road to Jerusalem, however, were as fortunate as my delivery friend and I. The Healer, Abba’s Passover Lamb, traveled through their village.

And their encounter with Him would forever change their lives. He would deliver them from the angel of death.

They cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (Luke 17:13).

Jesus didn’t hesitate. He simply said, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”

At first glance, that seems an odd response. But in Jewish culture, the priests were required to judge whether or not something was clean or unclean. The lepers had been designated as unclean and as a result, quarantined outside the city.

The priest would officially declare them “clean.” In fact, Abba often uses people and human institutions to touch lives.

For me, my physician gave me the official release from chemo. He confirmed the miracle of my healing.

In faith, then, ten lepers made their way to the priests. They believed that Christ had made them whole.

As they went, they were healed. I can only imagine their tears of gratitude and relief; their shouts of joy and celebration.

God and Country, First Baptist of Lexington, VA_LynnAbbott_11x14OilI suspect a good many of them broke into a run. They probably couldn’t wait to be declared clean and to reunite with their families and friends.

But one stopped.

One leper returned to the place where he and his friends met Jesus.

One celebrated the Healer, first and foremost.

One leper recognized the Abba’s Passover Lamb. One worshiped the Healer who in mercy and grace had delivered the unclean from death.

There would be time to find the priests. There would be time to celebrate with family and friends.

The picket fence would wait. The approval of priests would come.

But Jesus was there. Right then.

And the one leper returned to express his deep gratitude to his Savior. The healed stopped to thank the Healer.

First. Foremost.

And in the quiet of last Saturday evening, as I meditated upon the grace, mercy and forgiveness I have found in Christ, my heart also filled with gratitude.

You see, I am not only a cancer survivor… I am also a sin survivor.

Without a doubt, the human soul is damaged. Our hearts have gone rogue.

“All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way…” writes Isaiah (Isaiah 53:6a).

It’s true. We all suffer from spiritual leprosy, spiritual cancer. Some are just better than others at putting a good face on it. Even so, the unchecked disease promises the same outcome.

And so it is that during this season of national thanksgiving, I remember my life-changing encounter with Christ, the Passover Lamb.

On the road to Calvary, He thought of you and me.

God and Country, First Baptist of Lexington, VA_LynnAbbott_11x14Oil

And you and I are healed when we place our faith and dependence in Him.

We cry, “Master, have mercy!”

Without hesitation, the Passover Lamb suffered to grant us a clean bill of spiritual health.

“You are one of mine,” Christ says.

For this reason, as I prepare for the holidays, I remind myself, “There will be time later for gifting. First, I must return to thank Him.”

During my  “silent night,” I will recall…

This time of year isn’t about the latest craze offered by any superstore.

Neither is it about pleasing others nor gaining their approval.

Even though the people around me are truly important, there is someone infinitely more essential. Truly, I owe everything to the Passover Lamb who gave it all for you and me.

In the midst of the busy-ness, in my hurry to arrive at my next destination, I don’t want to miss Him.

I don’t want to miss His light in the midst of life’s trees, in my hurry to respond to all that clamors for my time and attention.

Rather, like the leper in Luke 17, I wish to thank my Savior.

For this reason, I will pause here before I travel over the hills and through the woods of holiday making.

I will choose to rest in His presence.

Here, in the gentle silence, my heart whispers gratitude for Abba’s mercy and grace.

God and Country, First Baptist of Lexington, VA_LynnAbbott_11x14OilIndeed, at this time of year, you and I  remember the Lamb of God and celebrate our “clean bill of health.”

Most importantly, we return once more to exalt the Healer, the One about whom it is written, “by His stripes, we are healed,” (Isaiah 53:5).

Yes, during this season of Thanksgiving and Advent, we pause to worship Him. First and foremost.

“…Wash me and I will be whiter than snow,” ~Psalm 51:7b

“Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried…As a result of the anguish of His soul… By His knowledge, the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities,”~ Isaiah 53:4a, 11

“‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the LORD.  ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow…'” ~ Isaiah 1:18a