Fragile Bubbles

Fragile Bubbles

By Pat Knight

Bubbles fizz and burst in a bath. Iridescent bubbles sparkle from a waterfall. Opalescent bubbles blown from a child’s bubble blowing solution shimmer in sunlight. Pure enchantment, the kind that transports us to younger years, allures us to the most simplistic, unadorned entertainer of all—the lowly bubble. 

Most toddlers are fascinated with the fine art of bubble blowing. Mastering blowing bubbles from an open-ended wand submerged in a colorful bottle of bubble solution may seem like only child’s play. It is not as easy as it initially appears.

Fanatic enthusiasm caused our grandsons to puff more air than necessary to create a perfectly formed bubble. Rather than blowing hard with the strength to inflate a balloon, only a delicate, measured whisper of exhaled breath will suffice to release the perfect bubble, teaching the children the value of gentleness, patience, and self-control. It is surprising how little practice and how much patience is required to learn the technique.

The major lesson to be learned from bubble blowing is that some things in life cannot be forced. Easy goes the bubble blowing. Puffing with vigor only causes the soapy, slippery film to drip off the wand. Too much pressure defeats the purpose and destroys that which we were trying to preserve. To advance peacefully, deliberately, and gently throughout life is an admirable goal. We can always add more pressure. However, if we begin with force, there is no room for adjustment, and irreparable damage may be done in the process. The bubble may be lost. Is it possible we were imposing too much force, producing an unwanted, imperfect outcome? As a result, our impatience ruined the bubble. Gentleness and patience is required to sustain the beautiful and the fragile in life.

Whenever one of us gently breathed on the soapy solution, a bubble slowly stretched out until it separated from the wand, propelled into mid-air. Then, chasing and bursting the iridescent bubbles extended the game. Bubbles are elusive. When coerced or captured, delicate touch pops the orb. Chasing and popping floating bubbles is as challenging as blowing them into shape. Beware of someone who wants to burst your bubble!

Once the art of bubble-blowing is mastered, the game continues as long as the toddler’s attention span endures. Sometimes after a gentle infusion of air, the squirming sphere stretches out from the wand until it looks as if it will spontaneously pop. But, if smooth, steady breath is maintained, the bubble eventually slides off in an elongated shape and perches on a surface nearby.

Playing bubble games is not so far from a real life enactment of problem-solving. If we were in a position of authority, as Jesus was on earth, would we exhibit His gentleness? Or, would we, inadvertently or purposefully burst bubbles with an inappropriate show of arrogance, aggression, or authority?

Jesus was preaching in a home in Capernaum. Crowds of people gathered and swelled the house with more listeners lining up outside. Today we would describe the situation as standing room only. To many, the possibility of placing a stretcher carrying a paralytic close enough for Jesus to interact with the man would have looked bleak. When one is paralyzed, it is imperative to have innovative friends who will anticipate needs and assist with daily care.

Not to be deterred, the paralytic’s friends confidently carried his pallet up the outside stairs of the house. Once on the roof, all four men began digging until they successfully removed a large section of roof, opening an area sufficient to lower their friend on the mat down into the room directly in front of Jesus. “When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven’”(Mark 2:5). Jesus healed his spiritual paralysis first, then addressed his physical needs. “‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’ He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God” (vv. 11-12).

The house was filled with curious people that day. Through tenacity of the paralytic’s friends, the man on his stretcher was placed in front of Jesus. Christ admired the men’s perseverance, daring, and sense of urgency. Another bubble was preserved to announce God’s love and forgiveness to the gathering of people when He presented a new life of physical freedom to the paralytic man. Though the man had never before experienced mobility, when Jesus gave the command for him to walk, the man did not hesitate, nor did he whimper that he didn’t know how. He trusted His Lord and took one step at a time. A bubble was suspended over the house that day, riding air currents to deliver the message of the Gospel to the lost.

Most children love to blow bubbles. Sometimes the bubbles are created with ease and at other times, we must corral the child’s aggression. An iridescent sphere is produced using the slightest puff of breath. Its beauty is simple, its message complex. When a strong blast of breath is propelled toward the open wand, the sloppy, soapy solution quickly drips down an arm, the bubble lost. Bubble-making requires practice to produce perfectly formed orbs every time. Such is life.

Jesus said, “‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6). Though Christians are anxious for non-believers to know the personal love and saving grace of Jesus as we do, we cannot force the relationship. If we do, the bubble merely disintegrates into a sticky, gooey mess. We tried too hard. The higher the stakes, the harder we blow. For best results, we must relax, take a deep breath and exhale with deliberate intent. As the bubble begins to bulge outward, we persist with short, easy puffs. The outcome is too important to lose to impatience. It is always worth relaxing and waiting for valuable results. We cannot force love or respect. Jesus will only be seen in our lives through humility, kindness, and compassion. Like unpretentious bubbles, our goodness and gentleness will exalt Christ.

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12). To project the attributes of Christ, we must develop a delicate, tender approach, just as He acted on earth, honoring and loving all people. The one character from the pages of the Bible known for gentle forbearance was Jesus. He reacted to everyone with the manner in which He would like to be treated. “But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Psalm 86:15).

During the process of attempting to perfect their bubble blowing skills, children learn the importance of breathing lightly for success or blowing frantically, leading to disappointment. It appears that gentleness and the bubbles that stay afloat prevail, carrying with them the message of patient endurance and perseverance. What splendid lessons from inconsequential bubbles, elevated to tutors of life lessons!

Quack Attack

Quack Attack

By Pat Knight

From the shoreline, we witnessed the erratic, audacious activity of three mallard ducks involved in a physical scuffle. They were aggressively flapping into each other, first in the water, then in the air. There must have been a distinct reason for the unusual behavior among a group of birds that is normally a peaceable species.

God observes similar harassing behavior, as Christians interact during disagreement, criticism, or quarreling. At such times it is difficult to distinguish between Christian and non-Christian conduct. What a shame! “It is to one’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel” (Proverbs 20:3). 

We are commanded to love one another. “Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other … God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever!” (1 Peter 4:8, 10-11, NLT). Love and serve with the capabilities God provides; with all the strength He infuses to glorify His name and to encourage others.

Occasionally heard are comments such as, “I would never have guessed he is a Christian from the way he acts at work.” Or, “she is so involved in gossiping and backbiting, how can she claim to be a believer?” God is unhappy with the person and abhors such behavior. Incriminating words, off-color jokes, or unkind remarks place God’s stamp of disapproval on a Christian’s testimony.

Because God commands us to love one another and to be peacemakers, extending kindness and patience in all circumstances, how can we possibly rationalize inappropriate words? “We speak as those approved by God, who are to be entrusted with His Gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts” (1 Thessalonians 2:4). Sanctified by Jesus, we are set apart for holy purposes, taking our directions solely from God. He is the one who specifies conduct and speech. We are instructed to “imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2, NLT). 

We are quick to dismiss bad language as a slip of the tongue. God expects us to be personally responsible for every word we utter. Do your words uplift or degrade?

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).

Our words carry the ability to slice through a person, bringing him to his knees, and crippling his spirit. Positive, loving speech enhances our Christian testimony. Cruel words cast doubt on our relationship with Christ.

There are times when Christians are guilty of spiritual cannibalism. We have all seen it happen: cutting words disfigure and disable, ingesting God’s children alive. We witness jealousy, egotistical comments, and hurtful, tactless responses. Irascible words produce deep wounds that seldom heal.

Like large mammals who hunt their prey, people also stalk the unsuspecting with criticism and gossip. As the animal moves in for a quick, decisive kill, we characteristically destroy with anger, untruths, slander, judgment, or accusations, until we have devoured one of God’s beloved creatures. We claim to be more advanced intellectually than the animal world, but such actions prove us wrong. If we’ve circulated in Christian circles very long, we’ve observed variations of this scenario, completely contrary to God’s teachings to love and treat others as we want to be treated.

Does it provide self-satisfaction to watch a fellow Christian squirm and suffer? If we notice a person physically in harm’s way, we likely intervene to prevent injury or to save a life. So, why do we hesitate to get involved when emotional or spiritual health are threatened? We are specifically commanded, “All of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:8).

At the time the Israelites escaped their Egyptian slave masters and were traveling toward the Promised Land, Miriam questioned Moses’ authority as their leader, expressing jealousy of her brother’s assignment as God’s prophet. She challenged God’s decision by exposing and criticizing Moses’ marriage to a foreign-born woman, attempting to undermine his authority. Miriam demanded to know why God had spoken solely through Moses and not through her or her other brother, Aaron.

God answered Miriam by confirming that He chooses His prophets and that Moses was greater than all the others (Numbers 12:4-9). As severe judgment for Miriam’s rebellion, God inflicted her with leprosy. Her skin instantly turned white as snow. Her gracious, forgiving brother, Moses, prayed for her healing. God promised to heal Miriam, but first required that she remain quarantined outside the camp alone for seven days, holding up the journey for all the people until her punishment was fulfilled. She was designated an outcast until she could resume contact with the rest of the community.

Learning from Miriam and Aaron’s rebellion, it is necessary that we trust God to choose His appropriate followers for specific ministries. He lavishes each believer with distinct spiritual gifts. If we tirelessly use our own gifts to serve Jesus, we will have neither time nor energy to monitor how others are occupied with their individual assignment from God. 

Steaming jealousy, escalating anger, and a contorted sense of self-worth apparently motivated Miriam. She was not different from people today; only the circumstances vary. God was displeased with her. “The anger of the Lord burned against them and he left them” (Numbers 12:9). When our Lord views similar tendencies in His children today, He displays equal displeasure and disciplines His own. Jealousy is a trait that insidiously consumes our emotions. Priorities change. Apathy replaces faith. Destruction of spiritual relationships is inevitable. Any prolonged jealousy leaves victims in its path. A good dose of repentance, strengthened with personal, fervent prayers for forgiveness is the antidote God honors.

Deception erodes trust. Where there is no trust, there arises doubt and suspicion. Then, relations with God and people degenerate; we have sinned against both. We need not look far to find examples of the damage lying and deceit cause in the world around us. Betrayal among friends is often irreversible, unresponsive to human efforts of repair. “But with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26b). Our heavenly Father is able to reinstate our broken relationships just as he did for Miriam and Moses. Jesus taught, “‘For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled; and those who humble themselves will be exalted’” (Luke 18:14b). 

The flailing ducks couldn’t resist pecking at one another until feathers flew. God urges us to employ Jesus’ attribute of a gentle spirit. “No one should seek his own good but the good of others” (1 Corinthians 10:24). Leave squawking and aggression to the avian species. 

Christmas Hope

Christmas Hope

By Pat Knight

When Jesus was born over two thousand years ago, the Jews were a conquered people ruled by the Roman Empire under King Herod the Great. He was a ruthless, jealous madman, a schemer who took advantage of the Roman political climate to claim his way to the top position. Herod launched ambitious building endeavors and capital improvements, creating an unjust burden on the Jewish citizens, extracting thirty-five percent of their annual income.

The Wise Men stopped in the capital city, Jerusalem, to seek information about the newborn King of the Jews after following His supernatural star for many months. They were looking for the exact time and place of His birth. After King Herod gathered the Sadducees to study the Old Testament prophecy, he informed the Magi to look in Bethlehem. Then Herod the Great secretly commanded the Wise Men to present him with a report as soon as they located the new King.

The Wise Men reached Joseph and Mary with the Christ child at their home in Egypt, where an angel had directed them to relocate after Jesus’ birth.  As the Magi prepared to return home through Jerusalem to report their findings to King Herod, they were visited by God’s angel. He delivered the holy message for them to take another route home, avoiding King Herod altogether. Soon, the king suspected he had been tricked by the Wise Men. In his fury he gave orders to kill all boys in Bethlehem and its vicinities two years old and under, in accordance with the earlier visit from the Magi.

Herod’s ordered killings initiated great sorrow and fear when soldiers stormed every house searching for little victims. The soldier’s orders were non-negotiable. What a heartbreaking massacre, a mass killing to ameliorate one man’s pride. Brutal Herod the Great had already killed several of his family members. Herod was deranged. He didn’t hesitate to kill anyone to advance his personal agenda, his means of abolishing those who stood in his way. Herod didn’t handle competition in a healthy way. He kept order with the secret police and firm tyrannical rule.

Herod’s oppressive, bullying, totalitarian rule isn’t so unlike the style of anarchy we are witnessing by leaders in our current society. As we listen to news broadcasts, we are informed that cities are collapsing world-wide. We gasp in horror when acts of terror are committed within our borders. As in King Herod’s day, heinous acts are rationalized to promote personal power and greed. There are just as many merciless, ruthless madmen holding high government positions  today as there were in Herod the Great’s day (37 BC to 4 AD). There is little interest in discussion or tolerance. Oppressive governments first squash, then annihilate dissenters.

Over the centuries, the Israelites had grown weary of waiting for the promised Messiah. As Roman tyranny grew more suffocating, the Jews were anticipating a political Savior, one who would  finally release the nation of Israel from servitude, particularly from fear of dictators like Herod the Great. But the angels announced a Savior who would accomplish so much more—delivering them from sin and death, a miracle that compelled the angels to sing, “‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests’” (Luke 2:14). We are still claiming this victory today.

We cannot ignore the nefarious worldwide activity prevailing all around us. In contrast, Jesus personifies gifts of peace, joy, love, and grace. As we focus on Jesus’ power and authority during this Christmas season, the negativism of this world recedes in our minds; our priorities re-adjust on the blessed hope that changes our perspective.

The cacophony of current event chatter heard from around the world bombards us with discouragement. God assures us that hope is alive and well. Hope is confident expectation in God and His future plans. As humans we cannot manufacture hope by our own efforts. Hope is centered in God, personally demonstrated to us by the death of Christ on the cross. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

Do not allow foreboding fear to overshadow you this Christmas. Instead, renew your hope, gratitude, and love in the Babe of Bethlehem, who matured into our personal Savior. He will lavish believers with love and grace, encouraging you during this hopeful season. God keeps His promises; He never disappoints.

Our Messiah is more creative, powerful, and authoritative than all fear-mongering terrorists combined. Jesus is the very definition of hope, the Prince of Peace, able to rest our fearful spirits with His calming, trustworthy promises. He admonishes you to come to Him for soothing peace of mind. Centuries ago, in the midst of heavy-handed government, the shepherds and Wise Men found cause to rejoice at Jesus’ birth. May we do the same this Christmas.

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it;
let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them.
Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy” (Psalm 96:11-12).

God’s Christmas Gift

God’s Christmas Gift

 By Pat Knight

I had just settled into a pew prior to the church service, when my husband tapped me on the shoulder. As he whispered, “Something’s happened to my mother,” I heard panic in his voice. Her crumpled form lay on the cold floor of the church vestry. My hand over my mother-in-law’s chest detected the last heartbeat as someone else attempted to palpate her carotid pulse. There was no time to think, but simply to respond. Our knowledge of life saving, practiced and stored for future use, must be activated into quick and decisive maneuvers. The ambulance arrived and whisked Della off to the hospital. I was stunned. It was Christmas Eve and my mother-in-law had just suffered a cardiac arrest in church. In a few short minutes the serenity of the day had given way to utter chaos.

Further testing revealed our loved one had not suffered a heart attack, but worse—a ruptured brain aneurysm. The weakened wall of an artery had burst, causing a stroke in a vital area of her brain. She was transferred via ambulance to a larger medical center as a blizzard raged on Christmas morning. My husband and his sister followed the ambulance while I remained at home to create a little Christmas spirit for our young son and his four older cousins.

Exhaustion enveloped after the holiday dinner I prepared for eleven people was barely nibbled by five excited children. Aimlessly, I slumped into a chair while the teens supervised the young children outside playing in the snow. I could no longer focus on the events of the past twenty-four hours. Instead, my mind wandered to Bethlehem. On a cold, still night in the sheepfold, I was a weather-worn shepherd, frightened by the sudden appearance of an angel. Then the sky spontaneously opened to reveal a vast army of heaven’s angels, singing the jubilant praises of a birth announcement. ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests’” (Luke 2:14)

In the midst of the adversity the Holy Family experienced on that first Christmas day, God assured them, and us, of the greatest gift of all time—His Son. I was rejuvenated by the stunning reminder that it was Christmas day and that I, too, had reason to rejoice.

Among the uncertainty and confusion, God lavished me with His marvelous gift of peace. The affirmation that the Lord was in control was very real. Knowing that His plan for the birth of His Son was perfect to the last detail, just as it had been prophesied for centuries, how could I doubt that God’s plan would be any less perfect for the life of my mother-in-law?

The physicians gave us no encouragement that our loved one would live. In fact, when we inquired about her future homecoming, they simply stared at us in disbelief that our focus was on her recovery. For weeks her life hung in the balance between life and death. She endured brain surgery, drug reactions, and paralysis. How should I pray? Seeing my husband’s mother in her fatal condition, I could hardly ask that she live. Yet, I didn’t want her to die. I realized that I must commit her life totally to God. Hesitantly at first, I prayed, “Thy will be done. How difficult it was to let go! But, eventually my ineffectual hold on her transformed to urgent, trusting prayer that God’s will alone take precedent.

In the town where we lived, news traveled fast. People congratulated me for my heroic actions in saving a life. I bristled against the distinction. “Oh, no,” I clarified, “God saved her. I was only one of many people involved in His plan.” But my explanation didn’t discourage the next well-meaning person from assigning hero status. It was futile to attempt to dissuade public opinion, but my heart and mind rebelled against the perceived distinction. It had never been my desire to participate in such a pivotal event.

Previously, I had wondered if I would be able to perform CPR on a family member.  Although the steps to the resuscitation process emerged naturally, my emotional reaction was overwhelming. One night at work, my nurse manager asked how I was handling the family crisis. I was shocked to hear the words I blurted out: “I can’t shake the terrible guilt I feel for participating in her revival, only to see her remain in a vegetative state these past few weeks.” 

My manager responded, “Oh, I thought you believed in the One who died to remove all guilt.” What spiritual introspection and unrest that one comment elicited! I then realized how significantly my faith had been stymied by personal guilt. How could I possibly pray with conviction, believing in God’s compassion, power, and authority, if my heart was filled with self-incrimination? I proceeded to ask His forgiveness and press onward, requesting God’s help to develop a confident, obedient faith walk.

The quintessential question remains as to God’s purpose for afflictions and hardships in a Christian’s life. Though we will likely never know all of the answers until heaven, the crisis produced an unexpected personal consequence: I grew substantially in my faith walk and prayer life as a result of my mother-in-law’s turbulent illness and prolonged recovery.

God eventually performed a healing miracle in our loved one’s life. She lived for another seventeen years following her recovery, pleasantly astonishing her neurosurgeon and caregivers. Never did our family celebrate another Christmas without boundless joy and gratitude for the spectacular miracles God delights to perform in His children’s lives.

Nix Xmas

Nix Xmas

By Pat Knight

It is nearly time to celebrate the holy day of Christmas. Or is it written Xmas? The cross, symbolic of Christ and His resurrection and the first letter of the word Christos or Christ, were expressed with an X in the Greek alphabet. Though some Greek symbols are retained in formal worship services today, the letter X no longer represents Christ Jesus exclusively.

According to tradition, the word Xmas has been in use for several centuries to signify Christmas. It is understandable that the letter representing Christ (X) and the shortened version of celebration (mas) were combined to form Xmas. While those familiar with Greek may fully recognize the reverence attached to Xmas, for most of the populace Xmas is merely a shortened version of Christmas. In our contemporary culture X is used to represent an unknown quantity, a flexible and functional symbol of the English alphabet that is used to emphasize or to cross out writings.

Christmas is a holy day proclaiming the incarnation of the Son of God on earth, the same Deity present with the heavenly Father at the creation of the world and throughout history. Apart from the Greek origin, if we remove Christ from Christmas, Xmas is the result, a generic, unadorned word. In our zeal to shorten every word possible, we have dishonored Christ’s birthday.

The original Christmas was a splendid event. On a still night outside the hills of Bethlehem, shepherds were huddled in the sheepfold, cloaks wrapped tightly against the cold, when suddenly thousands of tiny lights pierced the ebony sky. At that moment an angel emerged with the glory of the Lord shining in his presence. What a spectacular, paralyzing event!

The angel announced, “‘Do not be afraid, I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you; You will find a baby wrapped in cloth and lying in a manger’” (Luke 2:10-11). Before the shepherds could focus, “suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests’” (vv. 13- 14). What a stunning, stupefying event for the shepherds, whose occasional excitement involved confronting a wild animal predator. The shepherds had been singled out of all creation to receive the announcement of the Savior’s birth. When the angels left, the shepherds conferred, “‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about’” (v. 15).

What pure excitement filled the hearts of the shepherds; thrilling, unprecedented heavenly exhilaration, an adrenaline rush felt by those in the presence of the angels! Although prophecy of the advent of the Messiah had been verbally communicated for centuries, no one was apprised of the time or location of his appearance. A baby King born in an animal shelter seemed incomprehensible. Yet, the angels were very convincing, typically appearing on earth only at extremely important times.

The shepherds expectantly walked to Bethlehem. They were not disappointed. “So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen Him they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. The shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told (vv.16-18, 20).

Because they believed the angels’ message and acted on their information, the shepherds were granted exclusive rights to participate in the hallowed excitement at Jesus’ birth. The day was eventually named Christmas to represent Jesus’ incarnation, commencing His thirty-three year journey on earth, with the cross His ultimate goal.

Has our world advanced intellectually in two thousand years? The momentous date of Christ’s birth is now dubbed Xmas and the majority of people celebrate by honoring an impersonal, rotund Santa Claus clad in a fuzzy red suit. Twinkle lights and ornaments adorn a fir tree with wrapped presents beneath. For many, the story of Christ’s birth remains just another fairy tale spelled Xmas; an excuse for exchanging gifts.

Devoted, loving children of God celebrate the fullness of Christ’s birth: love come to earth, promises of a Messiah kept, and the beginning of the road to Calvary, where Jesus was cruelly sacrificed for the accumulation of our sins.

I have often wondered if there is economy of motion in writing Xmas as opposed to Christmas. Otherwise, if time value weren’t involved, why would we insist upon shortening the word Christmas? As I experimented writing the two words, I expended no less motion writing an X. By substituting an X for Christ’s name, we have depersonalized Christmas, like so many secular ornaments replacing the true characters of the nativity.

The word Christmas is not found in the Bible, but it is the name that has been passed down through the ages to commemorate the birth of Christ. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Though traditions change, though we may substitute Christ’s name with an X, Christ our Lord has remained immutable throughout the ages.

“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority” (Colossians 2:8-10). At Christmastime and always, let us worship Jesus with the glory and majesty due His name. 

There is no greater love or grace available than for those who belong to Christ Jesus our Lord. As heirs with Him in God’s kingdom, let us assess our actions to magnify or to discredit His name. Join me this Christmas in eliminating the “X factor.” Our Messiah will be pleased. Join with the angels in proclaiming Christ as Lord. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15).

Pity Us

Photo credit: FreeBibleImages.org

One of them, when he saw he was healed,
came back, praising God in a loud voice.
He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—
and he was a Samaritan.
Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed?
Where are the other nine?
Has no one returned to give praise to God
except this foreigner?”
Then he said to him,
“Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
─Luke 17:15-19

Pity Us

By Pat Knight

Had you lived when Jesus walked the earth, you may have required the restorative powers of the Great Physician, willing to comply to whatever Jesus requested to be healed of an incurable disease. With only a few minimally educated physicians and no medicines or hospitals available, debilitated people were desperate. Unless Jesus pronounced them cured, all hope of recovery was lost. Leprosy was one of the most dreaded diseases of the day. According to Jewish law, once the disease was suspected, it must be confirmed by the priest. The person was then shuttled off to a colony outside of town, where all lepers lived in seclusion from the rest of society, an early form of quarantine. Because the disease was considered contagious, whenever lepers approached from a distance, they were required to shout “unclean” so contact with them could be avoided.

While traveling toward Jerusalem, Jesus met ten lepers who “stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’ When he saw them, he said, ‘Go show yourselves to the priests.’ And, as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?’  Then he said to him. ‘Rise and go: your faith has made you well’” (Luke 17:13-19).

It was the one Samaritan who turned around amid his trip to the temple priest to thank and praise Jesus for his instant healing. Samaritans were considered half-breeds and despised by Jews, who normally refused to affiliate with them, but living conditions within the leper colonies necessitated relaxation of typical social segregation. The healed Samaritan was ecstatically grateful, demonstrating vocally in a loud voice and physically by throwing himself at his Master’s feet, a display of humility, unworthiness, and worship. As a result, Jesus granted the Samaritan the spiritual healing of salvation in addition to his physical healing.

The quintessential question arises: why did the nine lepers not return to offer gratitude and praise to the Great Physician? They were recipients of a divine miracle, visible immediately as their skin cleared to a perfectly robust condition. Was it their intent to rush to be checked by the priest? If so, they could easily have returned later to the site where Jesus was ministering, announcing the priest’s decision of complete healing to all of the people gathered there. Though we could offer plausible excuses, the behavior of the nine was inexcusable. Rather, through the ages they have served as the epitome of selfishness.

Before we rush to judge the nine lepers, let us consider how we may have reacted. Or, evaluate how we currently respond to similar gifts from our Lord Jesus. Is it our habit to thank God for medications to treat our illnesses, or for complete reversal of symptoms following surgery? Though physicians now have more knowledge, research, and technology at their disposal than at any other era in history, they are still incapable of curing disease.

Physicians treat; God alone heals.

The Lord is the source of all wisdom and knowledge, truth and righteousness, mercy and grace, and the conqueror of sin and sickness. He delights in confounding physicians with miraculous healings they cannot explain scientifically.

Though the Samaritan leper knew the least of the ten about Jesus and Jewish law, he unabashedly threw himself at the Healer’s feet. Jesus viewed the intent of his heart and discovered his desire to know the Master Healer and to repent in gratitude. What does Jesus see inside our hearts? Our motives are of utmost importance to God; an attitude of gratitude pleases Him.

Only when we are focused on God, when our hearts yearn to obey, love, and serve, will our lives overflow with thanksgiving in response to Christ’s atonement for our sin. For such an incredible gift, the psalmist vowed to praise God. “‘I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness; I will sing the praises of the name of the Lord Most High’” (Psalm 7:17). Praise is a predictable result of deliverance, as demonstrated by the healed leper. How many times in our lives have we been rescued from health, financial, employment woes or social conflicts? How often do we praise God for His overwhelming protection and provision? “Give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20, NLT). No item or occasion is excluded from praise and thanksgiving.

 Adoration praises our Lord for who He is. Thanksgiving worships God for what He does. Praise exalts His character and His actions. “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). To pray without ceasing is to recognize God’s constant presence in our lives and our dependence on Him; to acknowledge His supremacy and authority. He peers into our hearts to ascertain our intents, expressed by continuous submission and obedience to Him, revealing personal praise and thanksgiving that permeate all of our thoughts and actions.

When we view a gorgeous sunset, perfect rose petals, ferocious ocean turf, or snow-capped mountain ranges, do our hearts spontaneously erupt with praise for our Creator’s magnificent design and visual gifts for our enjoyment? Or, are we guilty of neutrality toward the commonplace—a ho-hum, I’ve-seen-it-all-before complacency? We are commanded to worship the One, true God and Creator of our universe, superior in character and accomplishments. “Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:2, 6). We are commanded to worship the Lord in the splendor of His majesty.

On Palm Sunday, when Jesus inaugurated Passion Week by triumphantly entering Jerusalem, His followers publicly announced His royalty by spreading clothing and palm branches on His path, rejoicing and praising their Messiah and King with loud voices for His mighty works. “‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (Mark 11:9).

Jewish religious leaders were incensed by the public worship afforded Jesus. “Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples! ‘I tell you,’ He {Jesus} replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out’” (Luke 19:39-40). His religious opponents were livid that Jesus accepted public praise and refused to silence the large crowd. Jesus recognized the progression of events that must occur leading to His crucifixion. This was His time to be honored, praised, and glorified as Messiah and King of the Jews. He graciously accepted the reverence from those who worshipped Him then, just as He does from us today.

Humankind and inanimate objects are compelled to shout acclamations to the Messiah. If human praise is suppressed, then all creation will exclaim Jesus’ exaltations. Tangible objects stand as a testament to God’s creative powers, written in the sky and the earth’s landscape, motivating glory and praise simply by demonstrating the purpose for which each item was designed. “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it. Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy” (Psalm 96:11-12).

Gratitude is the echo of grace as it reverberates through the hollows of a human heart. Gratitude is the unashamed acceptance of a free gift and the heartfelt declaration that we cherish what we cannot buy. Therefore, gratitude glorifies the free grace of God and signifies the humility of a needy and receptive heart.
─John Piper

As we reflect on the euphoric thanksgiving reaction of the healed Samaritan leper and the ungratefulness of the remaining nine men cured of leprosy, let us assess our own responses to the love and grace God lavishes upon us. Believers live thankfully. Pity the unbeliever who has no source of help or healing or the privilege of bowing at Jesus’ feet in worship.

Artistic Wonder

Artistic Wonder

By Pat Knight

Flourishing, cursive handwriting, such as the art of calligraphy, fascinates those of us with barely decipherable penmanship. Consider how God created the world, its inhabitants, and its surroundings with the flourish of His spoken words. Creation was not merely an isolated week of exuberant creativity; perpetual artistic evidence of God’s miracles have continued for centuries; rampant affirmation that our sovereign Lord is a miracle-worker. Expect the unexpected from an extravagant, extraordinary God! Open your eyes to experience awe-inspiring wonder, initiating commitment to promote God’s glory; to place hope and trust in His unfailing, flourishing love and grace.

Daily sunsets splash the expanse of the western sky with flaming hues of orange, purple, red, yellow, and pink, swirling and swishing across the blue backdrop in a variety of configurations, blending into a blazing neon curtain pulled down at the close of the day. “I am the Lord and there is no other; apart from me there is no God … from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting people may know there is none besides me” (Isaiah 45:5-6).

The headlong crash of a waterfall from magnificent heights originating on mountain ledge smashes into limpid pools of water below, illuminating sparkling rainbow prisms as the sun reflects off water droplets to expose glittering diamonds suspended in mid-air.

Because deciduous trees are seasonally stripped of leaves, the branches that were starkly exposed during winter usher in springtime with barely discernable green growth. Each leaf will mature to the perfect size and shape for specific species, affording sheltered nurseries for the avian population, with millions of minuscule flapping fans to cool the environment, providing shade for all life.

A perfect, crescent rainbow with equal bands of the color spectrum arches across the sky in a convex semi-circle, astonishing observers as we bow to the supreme architect and painter of world wonders.  “I am the one who made the earth and created people to live on it. With my hands I stretched out the heavens. “All the stars are at my command” (Isaiah 45:12, NLT).

Millions of twinkling stars illuminate an endless ebony sky, confirming our perceived individual insignificance in a magnificently vast universe filled with awesome creations engineered by a loving God.  Unsurpassed dazzling beauty highlights His greatness, announcing God’s glory in the cosmos. “He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power” (Psalm 147:4-5).

The unrivaled marvel of a newborn infant expands its lungs for the first time, cooing and slurping nourishment, flailing its limbs and punching air with clenched fists. The baby is perfect in form, its skin as soft and as squeezable as marshmallows. The miniature person is God’s unique handiwork, a gift from the Creator of all life. King David admitted: “‘You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body, and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it’” (Psalm 139:13-14, NLT).

God created humans with free wills, allowing Adam and Eve the freedom to make the consequential decision to disobey Him. From that moment God prioritized forgiveness, dispensing mercy and grace to His human masterpiece. God probes deeply, searching a person’s heart for thoughts, intents, and desires. “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). God explores inner character traits that reveal our desire to communicate and fellowship with Him.

Our heavenly Father is intentionally and intimately involved in the lives of believers. As children of the King, we are royalty, enlisted as citizens of the kingdom of God, empowered with His strength, and enabled to possess the attributes of Jesus. There is no limit to the gifts with which our Lord infuses our hearts and minds, entitling us to live in spiritual victory regardless of physical circumstances.

God’s Son, incarnated on earth, experienced the entire realm of human relationships, challenges, temptations, and suffering. The sinless, holy life of the Son of God was crucified on a cross reserved for the most depraved Roman criminals. During that heinous event, God’s perfect prophecies for His Son and the world were fulfilled. The Messiah’s death and resurrection accomplished redemption of sin for all believers. “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners” (Romans 5:6, NLT). Acknowledging God’s perfect plan for His Son’s sacrifice and His ultimate triumph, why would we doubt God’s astonishing design for each of our lives?

The Lord of the universe desires to maintain an intimate relationship with His creatures. Personally undeserved, God’s grace requires a commitment of faith. Frustration ensues when human efforts fail to earn His grace by good works, for it is a free gift, revealing God’s overwhelming love and mercy. “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5). His pouring action depicts an unrestrained, copious flow, a deluge of love, compassion, and spiritual victory surrounding us at all times. Obedience is our worshipful expression of gratitude to God for His incredible gift of life itself.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us,
that we should be called children of God!
And that is what we are!
—1 John 3:1

Whatever God creates, promises, or performs is marvelous, deserving of glorious praise offered for His characteristics of power, faithfulness, forgiveness, and majesty. “Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the nations. Who will not fear you, Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed” (Revelation 15:3-4).

God’s creations are a testament to His monumental creativity and beauty. As His disciples, may we glorify His sovereignty, righteousness, and His infinite love and grace by worshipping the splendor of His majesty. Let us glorify our Creator with excessive joy and praise. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:3).

Astounding wonder and heartfelt obedience
are manifestations of love for Almighty God!