You are my lamp, O LORD,
the LORD turns my darkness into light.
—2 Samuel 2:29
What if you woke up one morning knowing it was your last day on earth? That’s what happened to the thief on the cross, who died a few feet from Jesus. Heaven, How I Got Here is his story, told in his own words, as he looks back from Heaven on the day that changed his eternity, and the faith that can change yours.
If you haven’t yet read Pastor Colin S. Smith’s short book, Heaven, How I Got Here: The Story of the Thief on the Cross , it is a very easy read. It is a story unlike any you’ve read. It was inspired by the story of the thief on the cross, found in chapter 23 of Luke’s Gospel. In writing the book, Pastor Colin tried to imagine the thief looking back on the last day of his life on earth from the perspective of his new life in heaven.
The story weaves together what we know from the Bible about the events of that day and views them through the eyes of the thief as he would have experienced them at the time, and as he can understand them now. If Jesus could save the thief a few hours before he died, there is lasting hope in Jesus, even for a person coming to the end of his or her life.
But think about his position on the day that he finds himself on a cross next to Jesus. He is at the end of his life (and he has not lived a good life), and there’s nothing he can do to improve it!
A lot of people have the idea that we get into heaven by living a good life, a religious life. They may believe that Jesus forgives, but deep down they feel that their progress in the Christian life is the key that will open the door of heaven. So, what is the thief to do on that basis?
- With his hands fixed to the cross, he can’t do any good works.
- With his feet nailed to a wooden beam, he can’t walk in paths of righteousness.
- With death only a few hours away, there was no time for him to turn over a new leaf.
What can he do? Religion cannot help him at this point in his life.
But Jesus can! This is the great importance of him turning to Jesus, a few feet away, and saying, “Jesus, would you remember me when you come into your kingdom?” And Jesus says to this man, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” So, Jesus is able to do for a person what religion cannot do. He is able to bring hope in a situation that would otherwise be utterly hopeless.
The story of the thief not only sheds light on the limits of religion, it is also a marvelous sample of what Christ is able to do for a person.
Heaven, How I Got Here: The Story of the Thief on the Cross is available from these retailers:
- Unlocking the Bible: paperback, audio
- Christian Focus Publications: paperback
- Amazon: paperback, audio, Kindle
- Christianbook.com: paperback
Colin Smith is Senior Pastor of The Orchard in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. His preaching ministry is shared through his daily radio program, Unlocking the Bible, and through his website, unlockingthebible.org. Colin recently authored the book Heaven, How I Got Here: The Story of the Thief on the Cross (Christian Focus). Connect with Colin on Twitter @PastorColinS.
Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.
Forgiveness is a hard thing to give and oftentimes even harder to accept. When Jesus spoke these words on the cross, the two thieves on either side of Him and those looking on couldn’t believe what He was saying. He had undergone so much even before He was nailed to the cross to die, and yet this Man could forgive His torturers? How was that possible?
While their ignorance of divine truth did not mean they deserved forgiveness, Christ’s prayer in the midst of their mocking Him is an expression of the limitless compassion of divine grace. (GotQuestions.org)
Beloved, if Jesus could forgive His torturers, He will forgive you too! Every single day we stumble in our Christian walk because we are not perfect. But God always loves to hear us say, Father, please forgive me for (what I just said or did or thought) and He is quick to forgive us. Unlike us, who sometimes hold grudges against people who do us wrong even after they ask for our forgiveness, God does not. And why not? Because Jesus already took upon Himself the full penalty for our sins on that cross. He paid the price for our sins—past, present and future.
If we say that we have no sin,
we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous
to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
If we say that we have not sinned,
we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.
—1 John 1:8-10
I heard a song again the other day that speaks to this so well, “Drops in the Ocean,” by Hawk Nelson (video below). Two lines in the chorus always resonate with me:
If you could count the times I’d say you are forgiven
It’s more than the drops in the ocean
If for any reason you cannot view this video, go here to read the lyrics. If you want to know how to receive the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, please visit my A..B…C… page to find out more. Or you can email me at faithlhj777 at gmail dot com.
This is a great piece from the Bible Nerd blog that will really make you think.
God Leads a Pretty Sheltered Life
At the end of time, billions of people were scattered on a great plain before God’s throne. Some of the groups near the front talked heatedly – not with cringing shame before God’s throne, but with embittered belligerence.
“How can God judge us? How can He know about suffering?” snapped a brunette, jerking back a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number from a Nazi concentration camp. “We endured terror, beatings, torture, and death!”
In another group, a black man lowered his collar. “What about this?” he demanded, showing the rope burns. “Lynched for no crime but being black! We’ve suffocated in slave ships, been wrenched from loved ones, and toiled ‘til only death gave release.”
Hundreds of such groups were visible across the plain. Each had a complaint against God for the evil and suffering He permitted in His world. How lucky God was, they all seemed to agree, able to live in heaven where all is sweetness and light, without weeping, fear hunger or hatred. Indeed, what does God know about man? What does He know about being forced to endure the trials of life? After all, God leads pretty sheltered life.
This is another of the devotionals I wrote for the anthology titled Anytime Prayers for Everyday People. This particular devotional was included in the section titled Prayers of Praise and Thanksgiving and is perfect for this time of the year as we are contemplating the true meaning of Resurrection Sunday.
When I want to thank God for His salvation . . .
I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God
for salvation to every one who has faith.
—Romans 1:16 RSV
I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor,
now is the day of salvation.
—2 Corinthians 6:2
The LORD lives, and blessed be my rock;
and exalted be the God of my salvation.
—Psalm 18:46 NASB
[Peter said] Jesus is the only One who can save people.
His name is the only power in the world that has been given
to save people. We must be saved through him.
—Acts 4:12 NCV
If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and
believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead,
you will be saved.
—Romans 10:9 NKJV
. . . I will pray.
I am always amazed when I consider the depth of Your love for me. You, who created everything in the universe, care for me so much You sent Your Son, Jesus Christ, to die for my sins. And I will never be able to explain why Jesus came—willingly, determined to rescue me and make me part of Your family. My salvation is more wonderful and amazing than I could ever comprehend.
Lord, You could have simply walked away from Your human creation, washed Your hands, and moved on to a new project. Instead, You walked beyond Your personal disappointment and went to extraordinary, even miraculous, lengths to salvage us. Knowing that moves me beyond words. And then to think that even in the face of so great a gesture toward us, You’ve made Yourself vulnerable by leaving us with the choice to take Your gift or leave it.
I want to be very clear, Lord—I take it! Every bit of it—all You have or want or plan for me! I choose to love You back every day of my life. Thank You for Your lavish gift of salvation.
It is not your hold of Christ that saves you,
but His hold of you!
—Charles Haddon Spurgeon
[From Anytime Prayers for Everyday People. Copyright © 2006 Bordon-Winters LLC]
My wonderful friend and contributing writer, Pat Knight, shared this with me recently in an email. I think it is so special and so true that I asked her permission to use it here. Thank you again, Pat!
“Prayer is powerful;
prayer is precious;
prayer perpetuates submission;
prayer is peaceful;
prayer is penitent;
prayer is passionate;
prayer is phenomenal!”
Here is a great devotional that is a good addition to my JOY theme this year. I read this yesterday at Crossmap.com titled “Not Simply to Endure or to Choose God’s Will but to Rejoice in it.” The author of this devotional is none other than L. B. Cowman of Streams in the Desert.
I live with several chronic pain illnesses and have often pondered the subject of God’s will, especially during this particular season of my life. Is it really possible to truly rejoice in God’s will, no matter what our difficulties are? Yes it is, and Mr. Cowman’s devotional is a good reminder of this. I especially appreciate this part of the devotional: “the most magnificent psalms arose from the most profound agonies of the soul.”
Not Simply to Endure
or to Choose God’s Will
but to Rejoice in it
Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. (2 Corinthians 6:10)
A stoic person despises the shedding of tears, but a Christian is not forbidden to weep.Yet the soul may become silent from excessive grief, just as the quivering sheep may remain quiet beneath the scissors of the shearer. Or, when the heart is at the verge of breaking beneath the waves of a trial, the sufferer may seek relief by crying out with a loud voice. But there is something even better.
It is said that springs of sweet, fresh water pool up amid the saltiness of the oceans, that the fairest Alpine flowers bloom in the wildest and most rugged mountain passes, and that the most magnificent psalms arose from the most profound agonies of the soul.
May it continue to be! Therefore, amid a multitude of trials, souls who love God will discover reasons for boundless, leaping joy. Even though “deep calls to deep”(Ps.42:7), the clear cadence of the Lord’s song will be heard. And during the most difficult hour that could ever enter a human life, it will be possible to bless the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Have you learned this lesson yet?
The Month of March
by Patricia Knight
The month of March is often described as “coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb,” frequently applicable in the Northeast area of the country where I live. As February continues its hold on winter, March originates with raw winds and significant snow cover. Soon, milder temperatures precipitate melting snow, ushering in gentler weather. By the end of March, there is hope of spring, with its array of new growth and vibrant colors.
The above metaphor compares the aggressive, domineering prowess of the lion to the submissive, docile lamb. Due to its size and ferociousness, the lion has earned its title, king of the jungle. Scripture, however, is replete with examples of the gentle, compliant lamb.
In Old Testament times, lambs were frequently used for clothing, food, and as an animal sacrifice to atone for the sins of the people. A sacrificial lamb had to be perfect, without blemish or defect. In the New Testament, Jesus was named the Lamb of God when he willingly sacrificed His one perfect life for the salvation of all mankind, eliminating the need for an atoning animal sacrifice ever again.
Meek was a term associated with Jesus. Weak is not synonymous with meek—far from it! Jesus was patient and kind, humbly acknowledging the goodness and grace of God and betraying no arrogance toward others. “By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you,” (2 Corinthians 10:1) is an introduction used by the Apostle Paul to the Corinthian people, an indication of his own affectionate desire to mirror Jesus’ qualities.
We are commanded to “be imitators of God, and live a life of love” (Ephesians 5:1). For us to emulate Christ, we must live a humble, unpretentious lifestyle. Assuming no attention for ourselves, we live to glorify and serve God, the priority Jesus expressed during His entire life on earth. “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2).
We are further commanded to avoid arrogance, to assume modesty and humility. It has been explained that once a person declares his humility, he is no longer humble! Humility involves our attitude and performance in life, a perpetual challenge for each of us. “Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (2 Peter 5:5).
The lion shows no mercy. With arrogance it stalks and attacks its victim, tearing the flesh and gorging on the meal. The lion is large and loud, throwing its weight around to its full advantage. Gentle ways are unknown to the species. In contrast, the lamb peacefully grazes in the meadow, unaware of danger and defenseless against attack. The shepherd must lead his sheep and their lambs, providing them with protection and food. Jesus is the True Shepherd, who gathers His lambs (believers) “and carries them close to His heart” (Isaiah 40:11), just as any shepherd would comfort the vulnerable lambs in his care.
The extreme antithesis between the lion and the lamb is adequate for explaining seasonal changes, but for our lifestyle it is preferable to be aligned with the character traits of the Lamb of God, Savior of the world!
I recently starting following a blog called Altruisco: people healing people. This wonderful blog contains tons of information about the Bible, faith and Jesus, as well as a section on world religions. There are also great videos and a “What Does the Bible Say About” section that covers many subjects from abortion to sin to worship.
Last week I read his post titled How do I make Jesus Lord of my life? and want to share it with you today.
The key is understanding that Jesus is already Lord of your life. We do not make Jesus Lord. Jesus is Lord. What we are supposed to do is submit to His lordship. Another word for our response to Jesus’ Lordship is “submission.” To submit is to yield to the will and control of another, and, with reference to Christians, it is yielding to the will and control of Jesus Christ. This means that when Scripture commands believers to love one another (John 15:17), that is what is to be done. It means that when Scripture says we are not to commit adultery or steal (Exodus 20:14-15), these things are not to be done. It should be understood that submission, or obedience to the commands of God, is related to Christian growth and maturity, and is not related to becoming a Christian. A person becomes a Christian by faith alone in Christ apart from works (Ephesians 2:8-9).