Message from Rev. Dr. Roger Paavola, President
as printed in The Encourager, November 2015
Rudyard Kipling was English, but born in India. He wrote poetry and authored books like Captain Courageous, How the Leopard Got His Spots, and The Jungle Books. His writings not only made him famous, but also earned him a fortune. A newspaper reporter came up to him once saying, “Mr. Kipling, I just read that somebody calculated that the money you make from your writings amounts to over one hundred dollars a word.” The reporter reached into his pocket and pulled out a one hundred dollar bill and gave it to Kipling. He said, “Here’s a one hundred dollar bill, Mr. Kipling. Now you give me one of your hundred dollar words.” Rudyard Kipling looked at the money, put it in his pocket and said, “Thanks!”
Thanks may well be a hundred dollar word. In fact, it’s more like a million-dollar word. It’s a small word but has a powerful meaning. If that little word is missing, we feel it. You know what it’s like when someone doesn’t say “thanks.” You’re hurt, feel used, ignored, or taken for granted. It makes you wonder why you even bothered.
Think about it: God has done a lot for us today (as well as in our past and into our future). But, as Americans, do we have to set aside a day to make sure we offer thanks for what God has done for us in Christ? Consider the account of the Ten Lepers: Leprosy was a common affliction at that time. A leper had to stand at a distance from people. They weren’t allowed to come near anyone, but keep a distance of six feet from others, including their family. They weren’t allowed to come inside a city’s walls – outcasts. They were forced to cry out, “Unclean!,” and remained unclean for the rest of their life… unless, by some miracle, they were healed.
The Jews saw leprosy as a curse from God. Imagine how these people must have felt. Their hearts were broken, banished from society and from their families, but laden with a belief that their sin caused them to erupt with an un-curable, deadly disease.
We may not have leprosy, but we do have an affliction seeded in us from the moment of our conception and birth. We call it “Original Sin.” In the perfect purity of God, we’re regarded as outcasts, away from His family, His blessings, and love. In the eyes of God, the unregenerate soul is cast outside His providence and apart from Jesus. It all started in the Garden of Eden when God’s angel drew a fiery sword and drove Adam and Eve outside the “city” and banished them from His divine presence. (Genesis 3:24)
But, the sad reality is that the deadly curse of sin continues to this day! Paul reminds us that we’ve all sinned and have fallen short of God’s glory. (Rom 3:23) We’re afflicted with a disease… the condemnation of sin. Confronted with the Law of God, we, like the lepers cry out, “Jesus, Master have mercy on us!” The only way those lepers could find healing was in the mercy of Jesus. Then, without bantering or hesitation, the miracle manifest itself as their disease disappeared. They were made clean.
This is where “Giving Thanks” kicks in. Like grown men leaping for joy as if they just won the World Series, those nine lepers kept on walking (or skipping!). Only one returned to give thanks. In the midst of their great deliverance. There are still people who still say, “Jesus, give me a miracle!… show me a sign!… crush my enemies!… get me out of this tight spot! What about the miracle of receiving eternal life that replaces eternal death? What about God’s undeserved grace and mercy? What about the millions of things He gives us each of the day of our lives? St Paul puts it this way: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ. (Eph 2:4-5)
The nine lepers demonstrated their faith in the words of Jesus Christ. They didn’t ask for a miracle – they asked for mercy. Only one demonstrated gratitude – “Giving Thanks.” His true faith believed the promises of God with assurance that what Jesus said would be and was done. Do you recall the TV program, ‘The Lone Ranger’? After one episode, the Lone Ranger returned the money stolen from the bank, and gave it back to the banker. When he returned the stolen money, the mayor of the town said, “We’re much obliged to you, masked man.” The difference comes down to one’s response to God’s grace. We don’t hear it much anymore, but, instead of saying, “Thank you,” some folks say, “I’m much obliged.” Being “much obliged” means they couldn’t do it themselves. Obligation? Perhaps, but more a privilege of knowing the townspeople couldn’t do it by themselves.
The mayor and the one former leper didn’t keep their praise to themselves. They gave thanks as a witness of God’s mercy and goodness. It’s amazing that the other nine lepers didn’t return to Jesus to give Him thanks! Maybe they thought, “Jesus didn’t really do much. All He did was tell me to go.” Or, maybe they thought, “Any rabbi could have done that;” or, “I was starting to feel better anyway.” We simply don’t know! But, the Samaritan returned in thanks, being “much obliged.”
A soldier stationed in the Philippines during WW II told a story: “Although the region was secure, sometimes the enemy tried to infiltrate our food storage area. One such enemy soldier came dressed in American fatigues and worked himself into the noontime chow line. The camp cook noticed him, reached under the serving table for his pistol and yelled for the MPs to come arrest the man. After it was all over, the MP’s asked the cook how he knew the man was an enemy soldier. “I figured it wasn’t one of you guys,” he said, “’cause he was coming back for seconds.”
Gratitude isn’t usually part of our nature, it often comes when necessity has been met, hunger and thirst are satisfied, or deep trials averted. Ingratitude and indifference are more deadly than leprosy. True thanksgiving isn’t about “What have you done for me lately?” Sincere gratitude – Thanks-Giving – acknowledges God’s undeserved grace toward us. In this festive season, we set aside time in prayer to thank God for all that He has done and continues to do out of His great love for us in Christ Jesus!
Much obliged – With Thanks-giving
Your servant in Christ