Convert Vision

October 14, 2007


Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. (12) And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance (13) and lifted up their voices, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us." (14) When he saw them he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went they were cleansed. (15) Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; (16) and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. (17) Then Jesus answered, "Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? (18) Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" (19) And he said to him, "Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well" (ESV).


Kevin Ellstrand, aged 16, decided to follow Jesus. As in many families with teenagers, Kevin’s parents are concerned about some of the choices he has made. But in Kevin’s case, they are not too worried about sex, drugs, and violence. Two years ago, Kevin underwent a religious conversion, and, as a result, says Kevin, he “started following Christ with all my heart.” He has since been on a mission trip to Mexico, and he participates in a weekly Bible study group.

The problem is his parents are not religious people, and they are troubled by Kevin’s zeal. They ask, Does he have to go to church every time the doors open? Kevin has concerns about his parents. He says, “I don’t want my parents to go to hell for not believing in God. But that is what is going to happen, and it really scares me.” Kevin’s dad says that while he respects his son, he is saddened that Kevin has such worries.

I should tell you that my information about Kevin Ellstrand and his secular parents comes from a Wall Street Journal article published in 2007 by Katherine Rosman [“Religion’s generation gap,” March 2, 2007, W1, W12]. A similar article was published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer back in 1985 (Joseph Berger, “Children who get religion often stun parents,” The Plain Dealer, April 14, 1985, 42P). Both articles cover the same ground and mention the same family tensions between religious children and irreligious parents. Some twenty-two years lapsed between the articles, but the issues remain the same.

However, we should note that homes in which children are more religious than their parents are not typical. More often, kids follow their parents in their religious positions, or they move away from religion altogether. But occasionally it goes the other way, and ministers who have these zealous young people in their congregations often find themselves in the awkward position of trying to steer the young deeper into the faith while at the same time helping them not to dishonor their families. Peter La Joy, who heads the student ministry of Calvary Chapel in Tucson, Arizona, says, “My joke is, [their parents] liked them better when they were on drugs.” And some parents do view their kids’ excesses as true believers as almost as disruptive as a drug habit.

We have no tidy solution to these matters of family strain caused by faith differences. Actually, such tensions between generations have been around for a long time, possibly as long as there have been families. Rather, we mention Kevin and young people like him who are at religious odds with their parents because sometimes a similar dynamic occurs in church, where recent converts can be more fervent about Christianity than longtime members.

More about that in a moment, but as a background for all of this, consider the ten lepers. Jesus healed all ten, but it never occurred to nine of them to praise God or thank Jesus. The tenth leper, however, whom Jesus noted was the only foreigner in the group, did both of those things, and the reason was that he “saw” what the other nine did not.

The ability to “see” is an important part of this story. Luke says that Jesus was moved to heal all ten after he saw them, which suggests something more than physical sight. Jesus’ vision enabled him not only to be aware of their presence, but also to have such sympathy for them that he helped them.

When Luke next uses the word “saw,” he is talking about the tenth leper who, seeing that his illness had disappeared, turned back and praised God in a loud voice and then prostrated himself before Jesus in fervent thankfulness. Certainly the other nine also noticed that their diseased skin was healed, but they failed to see that praise belonged to God and that thanks belonged to Jesus.

This is a major point: The extent to which we praise and give thanks to God is in direct proportion to our ability to “see” God and God’s gracious actions toward us.

But let’s continue: This foreigner who came back can represent for us those who come into our churches through conversion. For whether they are children picking up the faith of their parents or people from unchurched backgrounds, they are the “foreigners,” the ones who have not previously been part of the flock. But as converts, they are often the ones humbly prostrating themselves before Jesus while some lifers in the faith are simply going through the motions.

One Ohio pastor tells of his first church, a country church with several families who had long histories with that congregation. They were fine Christians, but one of them was a young woman who had come into the congregation as an adult when she married a man who had grown up there. She was the most enthusiastic and devout member of the church. She had limited church background, but when she started coming to worship with her new husband, she took the preaching seriously.

Sometimes, at the midweek program, she was the only one in the young-adult age group to show up. The pastor could have asked, “Where are the rest? Was none found to return and praise God except this ‘foreigner’?”

Actually, the church has a lot of resources and practices that an interested outsider may find compelling but which we, as veterans in the faith, may take for granted.

For example, we have hymns with words that contain strong testimonies of faith, words of power to uplift and inspire. One historian, writing about the Methodist movement planted in England in the 1700s by the Wesley brothers, said that more people learned Christian theology from the hymns of Charles Wesley than from the sermons of John Wesley. The hymns of the church are a great heritage.

In addition, as ARP’s we have a tradition of singing the psalms. The book of psalms has always been a source of comfort and inspiration for God’s people. When in trouble or in doubt or in need, we turn to the Bible and most often to the psalms. And the psalms are songs, so it is good to sing these Bible Songs.

But sometimes we sing without paying attention to the words. We just routinely mouth the same words over and over, and that is boring. We need to think about what we are singing and about what that means for our lives.

Consider, too, the power of the Scriptures. Many people outside the church actually have a high regard for the Bible. They believe it to be a place where answers to the great questions of life can be found. They may even feel guilty because they don’t read it. We who attend Sunday school and Bible studies usually have a better understanding of the Bible, but sometimes we have forgotten its power.

New converts often bring an attitude of respect and wonder to the Bible. They see the people of the church reading from the Bible. They hear the preacher talking about the Bible. Maybe the preacher exhorts them to read the Bible for themselves. So they decide to do it. They go home, pick up an old Bible, start reading. Well, it is the KJV, of course, and they quickly find it is rough going, and after a few chapters of begats in Genesis, they abandon the project. They would be better off with a modern version of Bible, and hopefully most churches today will point them in that direction. But the wonderful thing about the way new converts approach the Bible is their excitement and their reverence. This is God’s word. Wow!! The rest of us need that same attitude and that same interest in the scripture.

We have some other practices, too, that can deepen our connection with God. Among them are worship and fellowship. The danger is that whenever we are routinely around holy things, they become routine.

A member of a church asked his pastor, “How come every Sunday you say, ‘Let us repeat the Lord’s Prayer’?” The pastor replied, “Well, Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer as a model of prayer.” “No,” said the old man, “you’re not understanding my question. What I’m asking is, how come you say, ‘Let us repeat the Lord’s Prayer’? Shouldn’t you say let us pray the Lord’s Prayer?” That man was looking at the worship service with the eyes of a convert.

Frankly, many of us who are longtimers in the church would not be comfortable with the tenth leper. We’re not cool with anyone falling on the ground in gratitude; we’re not at ease with extremes of praise. We like the middle ground. We’re leery of anything that smacks of fanaticism.

Maybe we should read the rebuke of Risen Lord that he spoke against the church at Laodicea in the book of Revelation: “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15-16).

John, who wrote Revelation, probably was called in that time, and would be called in our time, a Christian fanatic. That was why he got exiled to Patmos. But maybe we who have been in the church most of our lives need to rekindle some of his fanaticism. We need the passion and the vision of the new convert so that our Christianity never becomes something in the background of our lives.

Think about the other nine men Jesus healed that day. They were not bad people. In going off to show themselves to the priests to be declared clean, they were doing exactly what Jesus told them to do. They were being good church members, if you will. The problem was, they were doing all of that without seeing. The nine only look bad in this story because of the behavior of the tenth man, the one who from his position as an outsider was able to see that before he went to the priests, he needed to praise God for his healing and to thank Jesus, who made it possible.

Now, certainly, religious enthusiasm needs to be coupled with mature wisdom, and the church can offer that wisdom, but at the same time, we in the church need to see the riches of our faith the way a convert does.

Here’s a tale of two brothers. This is a true story but the names, as they say, have been changed to protect the innocent. We’ll call them Vern and Greg. They grew up in an evangelical Christian home. Vern, the older son, embraced the faith of his parents, and went into the ministry, but in time his faith became more liberal and “sophisticated” than that of his parents.

When Greg left home, he left Christ behind, and, for years, he was uninterested in God or church. But then he got caught up in a religious revival meeting and was gloriously saved. He emerged from that experience with a passionate evangelical faith. He did not know much about theology, he did not know much about the Bible, but he loved Jesus.

The next time Greg attended a family gathering, he looked skeptically at Vern’s more moderate faith and told him that he was bound for hell. Vern immediately decided that Greg was a religious nut and told him so.

Fortunately, the brothers really loved each other and their relationship survived this division. Eventually Greg himself went into the ministry. Over the years, though he remained a zealous Christian, he broadened some in his view of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. He decided he had been too hasty in judging his brother’s salvation. But Vern was moved by Greg’s passion, and he sought the ardor and enthusiasm he saw in Greg. So the two brothers sort of met halfway, and both profited by the experience.

It is all about seeing, or it is about a way of seeing that we often find in new converts. It is a way that older Christians sometimes need to recapture. It is exciting. It is important. This is not just the same old stuff every Sunday. This is the most important thing in your life. You need to listen. You need to think about what is going on here. What does this mean for you? That is what the tenth leper did and what the other nine did not. Be the tenth leper.


If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant

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