“That day they rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced.
And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.” Nehemiah 12:43
In 2013, my wife and I took our youth group on their first mission trip to another country: Haiti. Through an established Christian mission organization, we were there to help evangelize, teach the gospel, build houses and a church, teach the locals to learn English, and provide assistance in the medical clinic. The main job my youth students had was hosting a Vacation Bible School for the local children every day that week. The format was simple: act out an original Bible story skit, followed by a related craft. One of my favorites was Noah and the Ark. We taught how Noah’s faith in God’s promises saved him and his family, along with the animal kingdom, in a vessel of redemption known as the Ark. Of course, each skit was met with many challenges. The main challenge for the Noah skit was how to show God sending rain for the first time to flood the earth. As the children gathered that day, close to 40 kids in all, we still hadn’t figured out how we would make it “suddenly” rain.
As the students and translator began vividly acting out the skit for the children – over to my right, behind the courtyard fence where we were staying, a place known as The Hope Center, I saw a bright green garden hose. I had an "Ah ha" moment. I told one of the older students my plan; as soon as they got to the rain, give me some type of signal and I’ll shower all the children with the garden hose! I quickly ran to the other side of the fence. Thankfully, God had providentially placed a ladder up against the wall that wasn’t there before. I grabbed the ladder and the garden hose, climbed up the ladder, waited silently behind the fence for my cue.
Suddenly, the actors began screaming, running around in circles, looking up at the sky. This was my cue! Without hesitation, I unleashed the power of the garden hose and sprayed it directly on the mob of children. At first, they were scared (they didn’t know where the water was coming from), but as soon as they saw me, they immediately started laughing, jumping up and down with glee to play in the rain. Many of them even tilted their heads back, sticking out their tongues to take in as much “flood water” as they could – the very rain that was supposed to symbolize judgment and destruction! By this point, we had lost the main message of the story, but the joy of the children couldn’t be extinguished! Even my youth students and wife jumped into the rain storm, joyfully being “judged in the flood waters”. The rain storm must have lasted a good 10 minutes or more before the skit officially ended, escorting all the children over to the craft portion. There, we taught them the rest of the story: how God sent Noah and his family a rainbow as a promise that the Earth would never be flooded again.
The children couldn’t stop grinning, contagious for those of us who had the privilege to teach them. Something that started off small, a garden hose, brought gargantuan results: joy that could be heard from near and far the rest of the week. The children and my youth students talked about it every day after that, asking if there would be another “storm” coming that day. Sadly, God only flooded the earth once that week.
Friends and church members of New Covenant, what started off as a small "garden hose" idea, has become a wonderful project for God’s church here in Natchez with the expansion of our Nursery and building a playground, breaking ground March 11. Are you excited to hear the flood of joy? Are you excited to hear men, women, and children laugh and play together by the Lord’s provision of this wonderful facility at our church? I hope you are because I couldn’t have done it without YOU. Your support and excitement for bringing in younger families and children has been a beautiful and humbling thing to experience as your pastor! May we all relish over the joy that is coming friends. A joy that has been given to us by the LORD. Our calling as Christians is to be the most joyful people on the planet – WHY? Because through faith in Christ, we have been given a wonderful gift: eternal life that Jesus had immense joy in accomplishing for YOU (Hebrews 12:1-2). Let your joy provided by the Risen Lord be heard, seen, felt, and admired from near and far this month! “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” Philippians 4:4.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
The news channel warned us a severe storm was on the way. We were still newlyweds and had only been in our first house for a year at this point. As the thunder, lightning, and rain ferociously bombarded our neighborhood that night, we were thankful that God had kept us safe, dry, and warm.
The next morning, I decided to walk around our house outside, checking for any roof damage. There were a few fallen limbs scattered throughout the yard, but other than that – everything seemed to be fine. Later that day, my wife noticed an odd discoloration on our kitchen ceiling directly over the stove vent. She suggested it might be a good idea to check all the other ceilings in the house. So, we started our scavenger hunt, hoping we wouldn’t find any more potential water leak sites from the storm. To our chagrin, this wouldn’t be the case! As we entered the bathroom, there it was before us: a water leak coming from the bathroom vent – a steady, monstrous drip. However, this wasn’t your ordinary leak. The water was dripping directly into the toilet below the vent! Talk about an easy clean up! No towels or buckets required!
After our discovery, I went up into the attic searching for any noticeable water damage. The only damage I found was a small opening around both the kitchen roof vent and the guest bathroom roof vent – both leaks flowing together seeping through the guest bathroom ceiling vent, dripping directly into the toilet – it was like a complicated maze you would find in a board game! The next day, after things had dried off, I plugged both openings in the attic with some caulk and called it a day. It’s the easiest leak I’ve ever had to fix to this day! Now let me ask you something: was I thankful “for” this leak in the attic, dripping down into the guest bathroom toilet? No – of course not. Did you notice Paul’s words in verse 18 above? “Give thanks in all circumstances”, not “Give thanks for all circumstances.” What’s the difference?
What Paul is saying in this passage and what we need to be reminded of with the holidays upon us, is that things could be a lot worse. We are what we are by the common and saving grace of God (1 Corinthians 15). The leak in my kitchen and bathroom both could have easily burst through the ceiling, causing serious damage, so, no, I wasn’t thankful FOR the water leak, but I was thankful IN the situation that God, in His boundless mercy, provided, blessing me and my wife. Spending time with family over the holidays can always be challenging. We all have our unwritten expectations, plans, and anxieties, but this year, put all that aside and be thankful for the situations and circumstances God has placed you in. You may not be thankful FOR them at this moment, but let God show you HOW and WHY you should be. We can “rejoice always” because the greatest gift to all those who believe in Jesus Christ is eternal life, and that friends, is what the holiday dinner conversations should be about – not only for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter – but every day of the year!
“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.” Mark 13:32-33
Ted Muholland, a well-liked man with a sincere heart, was the proud owner of eight new steel mills in southern Illinois. After hiring 400 employees, only four months later, Muholland had the most successful steel mill business in the area. One of the perks for working for Muholland was a local community built beside the mills, allowing employees to easily get to work and offering free family housing.
The steel mills operated 24/7, rain or shine. The goal was shipping as much steel up and down the Mississippi River as possible, in hopes of becoming the top steel salesman in all the Mid-West. Muholland even began exporting his steel, sending 80,000 tons to Ireland and Spain within the course of two years. Four years later, his steel empire had become king. Searching for a story, a local reporter decided to travel to Muholland’s steel mill empire, uncertain of what he’d find.
When he arrived, he was greeted cordially by employees and their families; he even had dinner with Mr. Muholland himself. However, the reporter was troubled. He couldn’t seem to jot down any notes for his story. He also developed a slight migraine. His lack of creativity troubled him. He’d never experienced this before. After dinner with Mr. Muholland, he stepped outside and started walking towards the guest house he’d be in for the night. There, in front of him, he found his answer: the steel mills! The constant pounding, drilling, and forging was killing his senses. He dreaded going to the guest house, anxious he wouldn’t get any sleep. That night, he tossed and turned, even cramming pencils in his ears at one point to block out all the sounds. Nothing worked, resulting in no sleep.
The next morning, sitting on the porch, he was speechless when he saw all the workers and their families going about their day, acting like nothing had kept them up. He ran over to a woman passing by, asking her if she had been kept awake by the steel mills. She replied, “Isn’t it lovely? It takes a while to get used to, but now, I don’t even hear it.” For the entire day, the reporter sluggishly moved around, trying to take some quality pictures and jot down any story ideas. After getting dinner on his own that night, he tried going to bed around 8:00pm, but the torturous sounds of the steel mills kept pounding close by.
Around 2:00am that night, suddenly, the unthinkable happened: the power in the whole town went out. The sound of the steel mills ceased. There was utter silence and serenity throughout the entire town. The reporter leapt for joy in his room, followed by quickly huddling under the covers so he could fall asleep. Moments later, he began hearing faint noises outside his window. He looked outside the window to discover all the townspeople walking around with lanterns and flashlights, wondering what had happened to the rhythmic pounding of steel. The townspeople were unable to sleep. They had gotten so used to the noise that once it was gone, they were flabbergasted with what to do next. The reporter on the other hand, slept like a baby. Aiming to hit the road by sunrise, he discovered that the power was still out, the steel machines lifeless, and the citizens in delirious panic.
You see friends, the world has heard the constant pounding and preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ for centuries, yet, it still sleeps soundly. Someday, the church and gospel will be gone with the RETURN of Jesus Christ. This will happen on a day you and I could never predict. We also should never pretend like we have any authority on the subject (Acts 1:7). Christ will return for His people, His Remnant. Are we ready? Are we excited? Or are we sleeping soundly because we’ve grown complacent? If we love Jesus, we must love His bride, the church. Join us at New Covenant Presbyterian each Sunday morning to be awakened by the gospel.
“To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus,
called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
both their Lord and ours.” 1 Corinthians 1:2
I was so close to getting up and causing a scene. But then I thought, “Well…would it make any difference?” I envisioned being recorded by several people’s cellphones, the video clip sent in to the local news with the tagline reading, “Unknown man creates mayhem at church!”. After I restrained myself for the third time, I decided to go for a walk. Unfortunately, there were speakers in the hallways and even the restrooms! There was no escape from what I was hearing.
The church I visited was huge – it had everything you could ask for: a choir, a plethora of musicians to enhance the worship experience, vacation Bible school, tons of activities for people of all ages – but one crucial thing was missing: the name of Jesus. The guest preacher approached the pulpit, pacing back and forth, non-verbally bragging about his lack of using notes. He flashed a verse up on all three screens from Hebrews 10. He quickly read through it and that was the last we saw or heard of it. From there, he told stories about eating some good home cooking in Louisiana, the joys of doing yard work, zooming all over the place except for the Scripture he had read. 37 minutes later, I was stunned. Not ONCE did he say: gospel, atonement, redemption, faith, justification, or SALVATION found in JESUS alone. This, friends, is not preaching.
I don’t know what to call his speech. Granted, he was somewhat entertaining, like-able, sharp in his appearance – but he didn’t offer me or anyone else in that congregation of 700+ people any assurances of salvation found in Jesus Christ alone. Here’s what I’m NOT saying: this church I attended didn’t love Jesus, wasn’t a Godly church, or should be shut down immediately – who am I to question the work of God (Mark 9:38-41)? Maybe when the regular preacher was there it was more gospel-centered? From the outside looking in, it mirrored “while the cat’s away, the mice will play.” When we take Jesus OUT of the church, we are NO LONGER a church. The building has simply become a meeting place, an entertainment session, a gathering of people with a few shared interests. If we do not acknowledge Jesus as our Lord and Savior, especially in what we claim to be His church, then what are we doing there?
The church is not only a physical building, but consists of believers in Christ coming together to worship His name, His infallible Word, and rejoice in the bond that communion with Christ brings together as believers. I tell my congregation often to be in awe of the friendships we have together; all because of grace alone, faith alone, and Christ alone we are eternally saved. Otherwise, I would never cross paths with 90% or more of church participants that I see on a weekly basis! What brings us together is the love of God through Jesus Christ. Notice how Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1, “to the church of God that is in Corinth.” The church “of God.” Not “my church” or “our church” or “their church” – BUT God’s church, because with God fully and biblically in it, it’s a true church.
I challenge us this next month to NEVER BE ASHAMED of the Gospel only found in Jesus Christ (Romans 1:16, Titus 3:4-7)! When we honor Christ, as Paul said, we are called to be “saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” An often forgotten, yet theologically rich hymn, At the Name of Jesus, by Caroline Noel about Jesus puts it this way: “Humbled for a season to receive a name, from the lips of sinners unto whom He came, faithfully He bore it spotless to the last, brought it back victorious, when from death He passed.”
“Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand…
this is God, our God forever and ever.
He will guide us forever.”
Proverbs 19:21, Psalm 48:14
Recently my wife and I went to an Astros game in Houston, TX. We both were nervous about our 9-month old daughter being with us. Yes, we have become those “crazy” parents that tote our child around everywhere. There were all sorts of unknowns and “what-if’s” about the day game: what if she gets too hot? What if the retractable stadium roof is open? Or closed? What if the screaming fans are too loud? What if someone spills their popcorn or beer on her? What if she disrupts someone’s ball game experience? The list was endless!
After arriving at the stadium, we began shuffling through the large crowds of people to find our seats. We were sitting in Section 327, Row 1. As we approached our section, we passed by an interesting side-room to our left that read Mother’s Room. My wife paused for a moment to read about this Mother’s Room. Turns out, it was for nursing mothers at the stadium. The rules were simple: check in, walk through the lobby-like entrance and head into a smaller room that contained a couch and chairs for mothers who needed to nurse or take care of any other baby-related matters during the game.
It was a relief to have the option, but we figured there wouldn’t be a need to visit the room until close to the end of the game. We got some “healthy” ball-park food, found our seats, STOOD for the National Anthem and were off to a great day at Minute Maid Park! Our daughter was enjoying the game, the retractable roof was closed, the temperature was enjoyable, everything was purring right along UNTIL – the 4th inning: the Astros hit a single-home run barely over the back wall (good news). From where we were sitting, we thought it was a double (bad news). All the sudden, BOOM! The Astros homerun cannon erupted and the entire stadium shook from the enormous explosion! The fans burst into cheers, while our daughter immediately burst into tears, screaming for her life!
My wife and I panicked – How would we calm her down? Then, we both looked at each other and said, “The Mother’s Room!” My wife quickly scurried away with our daughter while understanding and sympathetic fans let her pass by. Two innings later, she returned with our daughter grinning from ear to ear. She then told me something that immediately made us give thanks to God: there was only ONE Mother’s Room in the entire stadium and it“just so happened” to be in the exact same section I had picked tickets for almost two months earlier. I had no idea the Mother’s Room even existed. But you know who did? GOD. God knew that we as “newbie” parents wouldn’t know anything about the Astros home-run cannon and how we would need the Mother’s Room we both took for granted as we passed by only four innings ago!
God is the Master Planner. The words “chance, coincidence, random, or luck” shouldn’t exist in your vocabulary, because they surely DO NOT exist in God’s. Never take for granted how things pan out for you this month, whether it goes the way you expected or not. God has a plan for your life and He’s asking that you trust Him to lead you in all things. He’s the only one who knows when you’ll need the next Mother’s Room in your own life – and if you allow Him to lead you, the results are far greater than you could ever imagine (Romans 8:37-39).
"For creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it,
in hope that the creation itself would be set free from its bondage to corruption and
obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God." Romans 8:20-21
The challenge was easy - or so I thought. My youth group students had been begging for the last three months to go camping. After finding a campsite for us, we set a date, held a fundraiser, and were all set to have a great weekend back in the fall of 2015.
Ironically, the day of the trip, all the boys scheduled to come backed out. I found myself in a situation I never saw coming: a camping trip with FOUR teenage girls, my wife, and me. To say I needed prayer was an understatement! As the girls arrived at the church before we hit the road, all they did was play on their cellphones, their eyes silently fixated on the screen, their thumbs lazily scrolling up and down. After packing up the last bit of luggage, I gathered the girls together and presented them with a simple challenge: if the girls agreed to leave their cellphones in the van ALL WEEKEND (a whopping 48 hours), Roberta and I would give them an ancient piece of technology known as a disposable camera that could take 24 pictures of our trip (we even had to show them what the wheel did on the top to wind the next picture). If they accepted the challenge, at the end of the trip, they could turn in their cameras and I would develop their pictures for FREE!
Once the terms of the challenge were declared, there was a long pause of hesitation and silence. Finally, one of the girls chipped in, "I'll do it!" Her response led to the other three girls following suit. I took their phones, turned them off, and locked them up for the weekend (after letting their parents know they could contact me). We started driving, and listening to their conversations was amusing at first: "This is so cool... I've never done anything like this!" "What are we supposed to do all weekend?" "I guess my boyfriend will be worried about me..." and so forth. However, by the end of the first night, the youth girls began to plot mutiny.
To say the weekend was emotionally painful is being polite. The complaining was endless. All they could think about was getting their phones back. They even began counting down the hours to when that would be. On the way back home, I found myself frustrated. The girls had missed the entire point of the challenge and the campout: LOOK PAST YOURSELF! They had missed all the exciting things to see at Rodney, the Windsor Ruins, Emerald Mound, Natchez, and more. When we returned to the church and unpacked, they were like salivating dogs waiting for their photos developed was eclipsed by the love of their phones.
Do they remember this camping trip years later? Maybe, maybe not. Did anything good come from it? I believe so, but at times, it's challenging to see what good exactly. My former youth students were casualties of a new phobia coined by scientists by Iowa State University known as nomophobia, meaning "no mobile phone phobia". It's the fear of not having your cellphone. Scientists have also discovered that we remember significant life events more without our phones.
The challenge, I think, is easy for you this month: put your phone down and spend time with God, the family and friends He has given you, and so on. Get outside (even when it's 90 degrees by 11:00 am) and spend time in His creation. Look past your Facebook wall, Instagram, and Twitter accounts, because at the end of the day, you're not as important as you think. God is important as you think. God is important, and He longs to have a meaningful, genuine, more than one hour a week relationship with YOU. Let Him. We are called to be so much more and give so much more to Him than our culture tell us. God calls us His "ambassadors of Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:20). Does your life mirror that title and the challenge to serve? Are you the latest victim in denial of nomophobia? How many times did you pick up your phone while attempting to read this? Look beyond yourself this month and serve the Lord in all things (1 Corinthians 10:31).
“But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.”
Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder!” James 2:18-19
Most of the large boxes were unpacked, furniture and beds all set up – we looked at each other with joy, elated that we had moved into our first house in Madison, MS. Sound asleep, around 3:30am in the morning, suddenly both of us were awakened to a slight rattling of the bedroom windows. There was a large humming noise coming from outside. “What is that?” we asked each other. Seconds later, an ominous horn emitted sounds of eerie terror! It was a train blowing its horn as it rushed through the neighborhood, keeping us awake for the next half-hour. “Surely the train is running late, I bet it won’t happen again” I said to my wife, assuring her that our sleep schedules wouldn’t be further disturbed.
Little did we know that this train zoomed through the neighborhood the same time every night, blaring the same horn for a good 10-15 seconds, causing everyone to toss in their beds with aggravation, waiting for silence to return. I couldn’t begin to imagine what the neighbors thought who lived directly behind the railroad – what a blessing it was we were two blocks away! How in the world were we going to get used to this train disturbing our sleep?
About a month later (if that long), I was working out in the yard when a train came by around 4:00pm. As I continued cutting the grass, I thought, “I haven’t heard the train in the middle of the night for a while…I guess it stopped.” To my chagrin, that night I was awakened by the same train at it’s usual 3:30am pass-through time. I realized that I had only grown accustomed to the noise, so much so, that I could completely block it out without even trying. Give or take a week, blocking out the train horn only took a month!
For the next 3 years before moving to Natchez, the train didn’t bother us any longer. Sure, every once in a while it would wake us up, reminding us it was still there, but 99 times out of 100, we slept peacefully through the noise. Why share this story with you? So you can feel sorry for me and all the sleep I “lost” while living in Madison? Not at all. I share this because whether we want to admit this openly or not, we are exactly like this when it comes to hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ preached in the South. We have grown accustomed to the “noise” our teachers and preachers of God’s Word make multiple times a week. The reason is that yearly, dare I say, daily – our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. The more you and I drift away from active listening and learning, the more you and I become living examples of 2 Timothy 4: “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
Are you still listening to God’s Word? And not only that, RESPONDING to God’s Word? Let me ask you this: What’s the difference between your faith and the faith of a demon? As James taught us, “even the demons believe,” and there is a RESPONSE to their beliefs – FEAR. Do you believe? And if so, does it cause genuine, God-fearing, God-serving, God-loving responses? Or have you and I grown numb? Have we blocked out the “noise” of God’s Word altogether and moved on to other non-substantial things where we simply shift positions in our beds at night, continuing to sleep? Pray for your hearts to be moved, pierced, fired up, and RESPONSIVE to the Gospel this week! The train horn continues to blow for Christ’s everlasting kingdom. Are you heeding its call? “The sheep hear His voice, and He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out,” John 10:3.
"Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.
We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:20
“The Cannibals! You will be eaten by the Cannibals!” said the old man, arguing why this new, young missionary from Scotland shouldn’t travel the South Seas. The 32-year old missionary, John G. Paton, replied, “Sir, you are advanced in years now, soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or worms – and in the Great Day of Jesus’ return, my resurrection body will arise as fair as yours in the likeness of our Redeemer.” With this one witty retort, a missionary was born who faithfully served God during his time on the New Hebrides islands in the South Pacific from 1858-1881.
As John and his pregnant wife, Mary, arrived on the island of Tanna in the South Pacific in 1858, they were greeted by painted “savages”, curious why the white man had come to their island to help them and point them to a new god, a new Lord – Jesus Christ. Three months after they arrived, Mary gave birth to their first son, Peter – but, tragically, Mary died almost three weeks later, followed by Peter at only 36 days old. John buried them together and spent many nights sleeping on their graves to protect their bodies from being eaten. Despite all the animosity from the natives, “supporters” back home, other missionaries criticizing his work, and merchant traders – his love for Jesus and spreading the gospel continued against all odds. Paton’s courage and trust in God’s sovereignty couldn’t be shaken. His faith was unbreakable. As Isaiah the prophet reminds us, “if you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all,” Isaiah 7:9.
Paton went on to do many wonderful things as a missionary for the Lord in his life. He is still regarded as one of the greatest missionaries the world has ever known. The irony is that many times in his life, he stated he felt miserable, abandoned, doubtful, and powerless. So why in the world continue? Isn’t the Christian life supposed to be easy? Why should we continue when we might feel exactly the same way as Paton? While Jesus was on the road to Jerusalem from Galilee with his disciples in John 6, he began to teach the crowds how he was the Bread of Life and whoever came to him would never hunger or thirst ever again. Sadly, in John 6:60-71, many of Jesus’ followers didn’t like this simple fact, so they turned back, never following him again. They convinced themselves that THEY could EARN eternity alone. That’s not how the Gospel works. Jesus teaches clearly that by faith in Him, even if we’ve messed up 1,000 times today already – if we still have an unshakeable FAITH in Christ and believe He is the ONLY WAY to everlasting life – we will hear the words one day, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
John G. Paton knew this and still pressed on to teach the GOSPEL, because the Gospel was and still is the only way to ETERNITY. As the familiar hymn says, “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.” The hope is that we aren’t alone and we never have been. Whatever trial or obstacle that stands in your way this month, thank God that through faith in Him, we have the greatest gift of all coming: eternal life with Jesus Christ! “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain,” 1 Corinthians 15:58!
‘And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
And He said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”’ Luke 23:42-43
We don’t know his name. We’re never told how old he was, what his favorite food was, where he grew up, how many siblings he had, what he did for a living – all we know is that he was bad. He was possibly coined a bad seed or the black sheep of his family. His rebellious and careless lifestyle had led him to one destination: a cross. Crucifixion was saved for the worst of the worst and he, along with one other, “happened” to be crucified by Christ on the same day of His earthly death.
Originally, he mocked and scorned Jesus like the other criminal, told to us by Matthew and Mark. The Greek word blasphemo is used, showing how strong and condescending their words were against Jesus. Somewhere along the way, one of them had a change of heart. Was it because of something he did? Absolutely not. Was there any way for this man to save himself? Of course not, because his hands and feet were nailed to a cross, as were Jesus’ and the other man. In the final moments of his life, once destined for hell, the unknown man connected the dots and acknowledged that the punishment he received was worthy and just. Because of this, he asked Jesus to remember him. He didn’t ask for money, for a way out, for an entire new life void of all the mistakes he had made getting him here – no, all he asked for was to be remembered, because in that moment he knew Jesus represented something greater. Jesus represented an eternal kingdom that far surpassed and outweighed everything else man does to distract himself. He knew that Jesus was the only “way, truth, and life.” Jesus calmly tells him, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” Jesus speaks the most reassuring words anyone could ever ask for – Jesus was mindful of him and his eternal whereabouts (Psalm 8).
The “Thief on the Cross” as we often call him needs a new nickname: Calvary’s Convert. Let’s focus more on what Jesus did (conversion) instead of what the man did in his life. Despite all his past mistakes, the grace of God was ENOUGH for this man. This is not a “last chance” story. This is not a “I’ll say I believe in Christ eventually to avoid Hell” story. No, this is a story about how despite all our mistakes and sin that is trying to kill us (Romans 6:23), God’s everlasting grace is sufficient enough for you, if you allow it to be. We often search for “greater” things, only to feel “less” than we did when we started searching. This man didn’t deserve salvation at all, but in his final moments, he realized that he couldn’t come to God on his own terms – he needed to come to God on God’s terms. The other man, the scoffer on the opposite side, claimed that Jesus was the Christ but only wanted a temporary fix! He didn’t want FAITH, only a cure to his 9-1-1 emergency.
God’s Word tells us that if we are genuinely saved believers and have faith in Christ, our thoughts, words, and deeds prove that. People “read” us and look at us a lot more than they do their Bibles – so be a walking, talking Bible for Christ in Natchez, MS. We are what we are because of God’s grace and nothing more. There are 168 hours in a week. We’re wonderful at making excuses, almost professionals, but I challenge you to give at least, dare I say, 2 of those 168 hours to God, your Creator and only source of salvation this week! Because of His Son’s death and resurrection, we long for the days of Paradise with Jesus. That’s all we will forever need: the presence of Jesus in Paradise.
“I therefore, prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:1-3
Back in January when I left for Air Force training, I decided to stop at a burger place on the road. This wasn’t your ordinary burger place; in fact, it was one of my favorites: “Five Guys”. I claimed to be starving, so nothing could stop me from getting a nice, juicy, delicious Five Guys hamburger. If you’ve ever been to Five Guys, you wait in line, place your order, get your drink, then wait for your number to be called. On this particular day, the saying, “God has a sense of humor,” was about to be illustrated.
There were two people directly in front of me, silent and looking at their phones. There was also an older man at the counter who had no idea how to order anything off the menu. It had been over 5 minutes already. “Of course, this is happening Lord when I am desperately hungry,” I said to myself, wondering how much longer it would be. The older man finally finished and the worker behind the counter shouted, “NEXT! NEXT!” The couple in front of me didn’t even respond. Frazzled and hungry, I tapped one of them on the shoulder and said, “It’s your turn.” They smiled and walked up to the counter. I couldn’t believe they didn’t acknowledge the worker, “What’s wrong with them?” I wondered.
Then the Lord slapped me in the face. The couple that was standing in front of me turned out to be a mother and son who were both deaf. They were busy writing down their orders on their phone so that when they got to the counter, they could simply show the worker what they wanted. My heart immediately sank. I felt terrible. I felt like I needed to be banished from civilization because of my rude impatience. I continued to watch them in amazement, both as happy as could be. I finally placed my order, got my drink, and sat down at a table to wait for my meal. One of the workers called out the number “67! 67!” She was baffled when no one approached the counter. The deaf mother and son were also sitting at a table, gleefully eating peanuts as they waited for their food. I walked up, grabbed the bag, told the girl this wasn’t my order yet, and took them their food. They smiled and thanked me in sign-language over and over. After leaving the restaurant with my food, for about the next hour or so in the truck, I couldn’t stop thinking about what had just happened. I couldn’t even enjoy my hamburger! How could I be so impatient and get irritated so quickly?
Whatever life throws at you this week, be PATIENT in everything. Be patient with your responses, your facial expressions, the text or phone call you’re thinking about making, whatever it is – BE PATIENT. Imagine Paul as he’s sitting in prison from Ephesians 4. I’m sure he was impatient, irritated that he was in prison for PREACHING THE GOSPEL. There are all sorts of emotions he could have had, yet, he encourages us to be humble, gentle, patient, and loving – eager to maintain unity with love and peace. Jonah was patient in the belly of a fish for 3 days. Jesus was patient when he was relentlessly tempted by Satan in the wilderness for 40 days and nights. We live in a world that easily teaches IMPATIENCE as an acceptable behavior. The Bible calls us to be loving, genuine, God-fearing and God-serving Christians, not impatient ones. The next time you feel yourself getting flustered over how long your order is taking, be patient and trust in God. Whatever the case may be, He’s teaching you something about yourself. It’s such a blessing that God puts up with us! He shapes and molds us into something better each and every day (if we let Him) because of His Son, Jesus Christ. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control,” Galatians 5:22-23. Don’t let a hamburger order and a half-empty stomach cause you to forget these wonderful promises!
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.