Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sunday Recap - April 25th 2010

After the great day Saturday in the park, a bunch of us were feeling the effects of that labor of love. It was a good tired. Having the opportunity to talk to hundreds of people and to expose them to what God is doing around the world and here in Valparaiso was a rush. But I was really looking forward all week to coming together on Sunday. Here at New Hope it's like every Sunday is a family reunion. 

Second week of the "Primal" series and we looked at "Wonder" as part of what a person who loved God with everything would experience everyday. Oh how I can resonate with that theme. I don't know how many times, especially since we moved down here, where I have been blown away by what God has done in Creation, in provision, in people. "Wow!" is a proper response as is worship and that's what we did.

Our worship music set was:

Here I Am To Worship
Your Grace Is Enough
- we did not do "Forever" - I felt that we had hit a "sweet spot" and wanted to get into the message right then!
Come Just As You Are - was our commitment song

The message was really fun to prepare for even though the week was WAY over filled with prep for Saturday. We took a minute or two to review where we had come from and spent some time explaining how living with a sense of amazement and wonder - with excitement about what God has done, is doing, and will do - is key to loving God with everything you have. We are starving our souls by filling them with "junk food" like TV, internet, games and chat when we could be experiencing the presence, love, grace and mercy of Almighty God!

The audio actually did record this week. It seems to help if the preacher turns the mike on - so I'll upload it later and it will be available on the church website. New Hope Valparaiso

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Saturday in the Park Recap

We'd prayed and planned. We'd dreamed and imagined what God would do. But when the actual day dawned it seemed as if we might not see anything realized from our efforts. The weather overnight was horrible. At 6AM I visited the festival site amid driving rain and lightning. However by 7:30 we were setting up the booth and getting ready to meet the people who would come.

Our idea was to take the items that would support the work of other ministries into our neighborhood - Valparaiso. We believe strongly in the causes we support and want to do more than our church along can do. Clean water for people who don't have it is a life or death issue. Orphans who are HIV positive will die without care, and there are families that will adopt them and get them that care, but adoption is expensive. Human trafficking must be stopped. Families in Africa want to get out of poverty but jobs that can do that are scarce.

We can't change everything. But we can DO SOMETHING!

And we did.

The day was a huge rush. We met a lot of people and even though the day was shortened by weather at both ends, we sold a lot of product for the organizations that can use it to make a difference.

There were things we can do better if we do it again. But the passion we brought to work with us that day can only be equaled - it won't be exceeded.

I'm very proud of what our New Hope volunteers did Saturday. Guys, YOU ROCK!

Friday, April 23, 2010

What In the World Are You Doing?


Tomorrow we will be another vendor at the 34th Saturday in the Park festival here in Valparaiso. But we will be there for a higher purpose - to help people DO SOMETHING about problems around the world that take people's lives. So over our booth will be emblazoned - "BUY AN ITEM - SAVE A LIFE"

Here below are the organizations whose items we will be selling and a little bit about each. Click on the link to learn more.

From HIV To Home, , , 

We seek to pave a road home for the world’s HIV+ orphans through partnerships with in-country, community-based programs that care for HIV+ orphans and by connecting HIV+ orphans with adoptive families.

Africa Bags
Africa Bags is a non-profit organization doing charitable work over in Malawi, Africa.  We sell reusable cloth shopping bags that are hand-crafted in five small villages in northern Malawi. Africa Bags has entered into ultra poor villages in northern Malawi with foot-powered treadle sewing machines, cloth, and all the materials/resources necessary for the Malawians to produce reusable cloth shopping bags.  These bags are sold back in the United States and 100% of all profits are returned to the villages.

Love 146
LOVE 146 VISION: The abolition of child sex slavery and exploitation. Nothing less.
LOVE 146 MISSION: Abolition and Restoration! We combat child sex slavery & exploitation with the unexpected and restore survivors with excellence.

The Water Project

Nearly 1 billion people still don't have access to clean drinking water. Find out what you can do to change that.
The Problem:
For too many...dirty, diseased water leads to a cycle of sickness, lack of education, poverty and lost hope. It is needless suffering.
The Solution:
You can get involved and help fund new fresh-water wells, put up water tanks and provide clean, safe water for thousands.

Read the stories behind Love146 -how they got their name. Read about how poverty - not no new iPad poverty, but crushing poverty that takes lives affects places like Malawi. Read how orphans born with HIV die in the thousands when they could be adopted and saved.

Are you okay with that?

Friends, we are doing this because Jesus' love compels us. We want to be able to explain just what following Him means. We want to share who we were outside the Kingdom and who Jesus recreated us into. And we want to save the lives of others so that they might hear the story of Jesus and His love.

Come and see.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Pastor's Life

One of the main search strings that bring people to this blog is "what is a pastor's life like?" or some derivation of it. There's no real concise way to explain it. I'm coming up on another anniversary in ministry and with this one I will have had just as many years in ministry as I did outside it. Hard to believe.

What can I tell you?

It's lonelier than you think it is.

Yes, I know that I'm engaged in caring for a group of people and am given unprecedented entrance into the lives of them and their families. I get to be there when babies come into the world, share the joy at weddings. When sorrow is present, I'm one of the tools God can use to apply His grace. Bunny and I get to follow kids as they grow up through recitals, chorus concerts, games and graduations. There's after church lunches and end of week invitations out to eat.

But it's lonelier than you think it is.

To pastor a church, especially a small church, means that after God and your family, it is everything. It's not just a job -not just income - it's a calling - a holy passion to see God glorified through your place of service. While it's critical to trust God to do what only God can do, you want to make sure that as much as you can do, you do. And it's very easy to let momentary losses, people leaving, or setbacks chip away at your confidence - not in God - but in you. If the church is hurt - you hurt. You know it's not you when it goes up, but you always wonder if it was you when it goes down. The only people who really understand what pastors go through are other pastors. And with the exception of  one dear friend who now lives in Atmore AL, I've never had anyone local to share the load. Not whining, just the facts.

So your wife, who in most jobs doesn't really get the full brunt of what you go through at work, is involved in the everyday ebb and flow and is your sounding board as well as all the other things wives typically do. Sometimes she suffers from the same sort of loneliness. We have to, have to, have to trust God to provide all our needs through Jesus.

I thank God for the friends Bunny has here.

Well, now all you folks who search for what a pastor's life is like have part of the answer.
The Words Change - The Story Never Does

Today the phrase "cutting red tape" implies that a person is blasting through needless regulations to get things done. It's pretty amazing how the phrase has changed in a pretty short period of time.

Thomas Edison's laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey was the world's first great R&D facility. In six years, the invention factory at Menlo Park secured more than 400 patents. This was in an age where changes were few and the pace of invention was a fraction of the speed it is today. But not with Edison. The U.S. Patent Office watched and waited for packages that were wrapped in a certain kind of red tape. They knew these came from Edison's lab, and they cut these first. Packages wrapped in that tape might change everything.

So red tape was a good thing, and cutting it was something you did out of eagerness to see something new and of value. Not any more. Think of the words that have changed in our lifetime and imagine how hard it would be to explain American slang. Words that are tied to time or a particular culture can be difficult too. 

I chuckled to myself recently at the associational Bible drill when one of our New Hope kids who was using a KJV bible because no NIVs were present tripped over the archaic word "shew" (as in "Shew yourself an approved workman..." Changes happen over time.

And cultural differences? Try explaining what "lilies of the field" means to natives of Somalia, a land where no lilies grow.

But the story doesn't change.

I stood in front of some kids in VBS one year and told the story of Christ's crucifixion. Using nails and a crown of thorns from Israel, I did my best to make it understood. One child asked to touch the thorns and when he did, he looked directly at me and said, "He must have really loved us."

Yes He did.

1 John 5:11 (Msg)
This is the testimony in essence: God gave us eternal life; the life is in His Son.

That friends hasn't changed. We can haggle over translations, denominations, signs and wonders, church models and the like, but through Jesus, God's Son, born of a virgin, crucified under Pontius Pilate, laid dead in a tomb, risen on the third day - through placing our faith in Him - we have life. Life for today and eternal hope!

Words change - the story never will.

Tell somebody!


David Wilson

Monday, April 19, 2010

Sunday Recap April 18 2010

Great day at New Hope! It took us a little while to get rolling in 2010 but we've hit our stride for sure. With the Kidmo kid's ministry really reaching out into the neighborhood and  touching some excited kids with God's Word.and the excitement building for Saturday in the Park I was really pointed toward the insight provided by Mark Batterson in his book "Primal." So we worked on putting the worship set together to help us get started.

Couple of things I did yesterday that I have never done before - read the focus Scripture before the opening prayer. I felt so strongly that God was going to use His Word to change us that I wanted to get the text out there immediately.

Second thing was I called on someone from the congregation to read Scripture during the sermon. And our Bible Drill star Ian Anderson did an awesome job. I love his "I'm paraphrasing this but..." - To me, it felt like family worship yesterday, where we are all engaged and sitting at Jesus' feet. Having Ian do that just seemed like we were all being involved in God's work during the sermon.

Music we used yesterday - Arise, Blessed Be Your Name, Be Thou My Vision, Still, and I Surrender All

Then last night we had our preview for Saturday in the Park. Pam Roberts and her crew put the booth we are going to use up and it looked great. All the items we'll be selling to support other ministries were on display and available for purchase. We sold over $600 worth right there!

What does that mean?
  • Families in Malawi have a more secure future and a real hope that they can make a better life for their children. 
  • Three people are going to have clean water for five years who wouldn't have had it.
  • From HIV 2 Home will be able to provide part of the funds for an adoption or use the funds to keep children cared for and loved until they are adopted. 
  • Love 146 would be well on the way to saving another child from being trafficked into slavery.
God DID SOMETHING GREAT yesterday and I can't wait to see what He's going to do this week in and through the people of New Hope.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Primal Christianity

I read this book a few months ago for the first time, then a month ago I read it again. Mark Batterson is one of the most unique pastors I have ever learned of. He seems to combine equal parts prophet and scientist. At first his writing style kind of put me off, but I made a decision to read on. This book is his third and while it does take some work to order his thoughts and insight, it's well worth the read. This morning I'll be using it as a touchstone to begin a look at the early church and why they were so effective.

Batterson believes that the church as a whole has lost the essence of what made it great. The single-minded focus on loving God with everything and using your life to show it. We've been on that trail for a while now at New Hope, so I initially put this book away, but it wouldn't stay under the pile. We need to be the greatest we can be at the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. So here we are.

Next weekend, we are going to move into uncharted territory. Our band of brothers and sisters are going to take what God has taught us- is teaching us - into the community and we will speak to our neighbors about what Primal Christianity is all about, as we seek to be a conduit of help and hope for the least of these. Pray for us today and through the days until then - that God be glorified.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Again, Thanks

From Beach Baptism

Bunny and I went out to eat with two couples from New Hope last night. We talked about kids we love, kids we have loved. Talked about where we've been, and where we hope to head. It was a family meal with people who are related by their love of Jesus and their love of each other. One of those evenings I'll remember. Bunny and I have made a conscious decision to break bread more often with more people than ever before, and it's been such a huge blessing. The Monday night meals with Allan and friends - Sunday's after church - and Friday nights - just another reason to give thanks.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Barna Group - Survey Reveals the Life Christians Desire

The Barna Group - Survey Reveals the Life Christians Desire

Good article that highlights the differences in what the evangelical follower of Jesus believes and those of other faith groups. Could spur you to think about what you want out of life too. I can tell you that after struggling through another April 15th tax filing last night, the thought occurred to me - "Is the trajectory our life is on consistent with what we believe?"

There are so many needs in this world. So many people have a fraction of the resources that we do. And our God is constantly reminding us of them and of OUR need to make a difference in their lives. When I looked at what we had given to God's work compared to what we earned, I felt that we didn't do enough. And when I look back over all our years as a pastor and wife, I can tell you without a doubt that the best period was when Bunny was employed by the Florida Baptist Children's Home shelter "My Friend's House" in Niceville, I was early into my work with New Hope, and we were both totally invested in that work. Our home was rented (as it is now), our cars over 10 years old, we had so little - and yet had so MUCH.

As I said, the article can make you think.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

LOL - Okay,someone out there is gassed!

Which one of you awesome people came to my blog after searching on "pastor's easy life"? I'd like to bless you real good. (When am I going to take delivery of that sarcasm font I ordered?)

Don't know one pastor who has "an easy life." Not one. It's not the toughest job in the world all the time, but there are times when it's pretty darn close. On the other hand, there are also times when it is the absolute best or at least tied for it.

But easy?

Dude, no.

WOOT! T-Shirts are in!!!

The T Shirts from are in. Each T-shirt will provide a person with clean water for 5 years. Since 6,000 people day every day due to a lack of clean water - each of these shirts - which come with a free water bottle and sell for $20 - will change the life of a person forever. On the front in Swahili "Water Is Life." On the back, a child at a well, and representative African images along with info about the critical need for clean water. We'll have them at Saturday in the Park!
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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Don't Squeeze the Life Out

Went to a local middle school chorus concert last night. One of the participants was a New Hope treasure, so we were excited to hear her sing. She's just started Middle School, so her group went first and sang a couple of songs - she was of course awesome - and the rest in her group were really good - best of the night in my humble opinion. After the beginning group she was in sat down, the next group composed of 7th and 8th graders sang, then the "Ambassadors" - the showcase group for the Middle School. Then the last group was introduced.

Our area is blessed with musical talent. The High School bands and choruses are really exceptional. Lots of the kids in them achieve "All State" honors. They are well funded and really have amazing talent. And yet the group which brought the most training and the most talent to the concert last night literally squeezed the life out of every song they sung. It was painful. It didn't help that they sang two songs that Bunny and I love - "California Dreaming" and "The Sounds of Silence."

Both songs have great stories behind them, and the artists that wrote and performed them weren't just playing or singing notes - they were telling their stories - raw, unpolished - real. But to hear the group last night, you might just as well have dropped your time machine into a victorian parlor or barbershop quartet convention. Yes they sang the songs, and probably hit every note in the arrangements. But it was lifeless. With no risk taken, no art was created. With every voice in tune and measured precisely, nothing great occurred.

I have to say that I'm constantly aware that the same thing can happen in church.

We can get so accustomed to working in our strength, skills, and programs that have worked before or are promised to work by the last conference speaker we heard, that we forget that the only "spiritual music" we can produce is through faith and by the power of the Holy Spirit. And remember, faith is being certain of that you cannot see. Sounds risky. Yeah and it is awesome, because when God acts you get to see it without any doubts about whether he was in it or not.

So we're attempting things at New Hope in the next few months that there's no way we can do. No way. And in the "doing", we'll undoubtedly mess up in some ways and fall short of the excellence some would bring to the events. But we'll give everything we have - we'll hold nothing back. We may hit a few wrong "notes" but it will be real live worship. Romans 12:1 in action.

Following Christ should make you feel more alive than ever. Don't squeeze the life out of it. Find your way to where God is at work and join Him there. LIVE. LOVE. LOUD.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Sunday Recap - April 11, 2010

It was Air Show weekend here outside Eglin AFB, and we enjoyed a wonderful view of several of the participant's routines through the side of the sanctuary that's ALL GLASS. :) It's a challenge.:) :)

But what a beautiful Spring weekend!

Really had a great time with the KIDMO kids and then enjoyed playing with the praise band. The worship set included some songs we don't do often - "Indescribable", "Breathe", and one we haven't done in years - "Amazing Grace"... set to the tune of  the Animal's "House of the Rising Sun". It was a blast from the past, and the congregation loved it. The neat thing about "resetting" lyrics to another tune is that you "hear" those lyrics again after being a little deaf to them. Had one of our "Senior saints" approach me after the service and I braced a little inside. He said "That Amazing Grace was really good."

I love New Hope!

I wanted to continue the Easter narrative by really looking at the hearts of the followers of Jesus when they believed He had failed. So the Emmaus Road text was the path we used to understand how much we need to immerse ourselves in the Word and maximize our time with Jesus. So I began with the "FAIL" internet meme and walked with the congregation through the text. I really felt like it worked and the response seemed to bear that out. I've put the audio for it and last week's messages up on the website.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

I Know This Road

“The Road to Emmaus is the road of deep disappointment,
and walking it is the living definition of sad. 
It is the road you walk when you lose a big game, 
or your candidate for office loses, or you lose your job, 
or you lose your loved one to death. 
It is the long road of loss. 
It is the long road back to an empty house, 
an empty seat at the table, 
an empty place in bed next to you, 
piles of unopened mail, 
calls on your answering machine from creditors demanding you call them back instead of friends or family offering you a cup of water in your misery. 
The Road to Emmaus is real. 
(Drawn from Barbara Brown Taylor, Gospel Medicine, Cowley Publications, Boston, Mass, p. 20).

One thing you should know about preachers. While it is true that we want desperately to speak in a way that God might use to turn people's hearts to Jesus - in the doing of that - in the thrashing about during the construction of what many call "the sermon" - it is often the preacher himself (or herself) that gets preached to.  

Tomorrow I will speak before the congregation I love about the Road to Emmaus.

I know this road.

It is real to me. It is real to people I love and care deeply for. And I suspect it is real to many of you too.

So will you pray with me that we might have our eyes opened - have our hearts burn within us - that we might meet Jesus together... tomorrow?

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Sunday Recap - Easter 2010

Okay, so I'm late. Way late. But you don't know the half of it. I'm typing this on my laptop (circa 2005 Thinkpad) in front of a desktop (remember those) from 1999 that's running an aquarium screen saver with sea sounds. That has to be from the 1700s? Right? So time has no hold on me. :) All I can tell you dear readers is that Easter weekend always exacts a price from preachers - Good Friday, Easter Sunday service, etc. is something we LIVE FOR - but this year I added the KIDMO children's hour and an afternoon block party to the mix. Had a blast! Met lots of new friends all day long.

We focused on the resurrection in Easter worship. Duh. It's the center pivot of history and the defining fact of our faith. If Christ wasn't raised then we're a social club. So my hope was to go through the steps of the first eye witnesses and the results of their testimony. We had a great crowd including some visitors and hope that they found the Holy Spirit active in drawing them closer to Jesus.

Began by calling on people to exercise their curiosity concerning the facts about the resurrection as presented in the Scriptures. What would it lead you to conclude? Then moved into "now what?" mode which is where the average person finds themselves- if Jesus is alive, how then should we live?

Our music was a blend of old and newer, beginning with "Christ the Lord Is Risen" and ending with "Come Home Running." Had one of my very favorite songs in it too "I Will Rise" and Kristen Morton knocked it out of the park to kick it off. Very proud of the way the praise team is raising their "game."

So then at 2PM, we were over in Kelly Hills setting up an inflatable and our usual sno-cone and popcorn freebees. The neighborhood was having a "get to know you" block party and we came over to help out in that and meet the folks. The Quinnells and Smith's (Sr) have lived there for years. We played frisbee, basketball, refereed kids in the inflatable, and later in the evening showed a movie in Jim and Mary Quinnell's front yard. Something with Chipmonks singing and dancing. :) It was a blast! People came out of the woodwork to see it and laughed and laughed.

I think Jesus would have too, and I think He'd be pleased with the hard work of so many New Hope folks that made Easter 2010 one to remember.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Living Between Good Friday and Easter

We miss it almost every year. We forget that the people we read about in the accounts of the events that make up Easter weekend even had a Saturday filled with nothing more than grief, loss, and crushing doubt. The day before they saw their worst nightmares come true before their eyes. Everything they had given three years of their lives to - the central pivot point to every step they made - was dead and buried.

They shared one of the questions that dog us even today - What now?

I've seen it happen too many times. People are paralyzed with grief and become almost catatonic, unable to do anything at all. Loss does that. You lose a family member that has always "been there for you." Now you and the rest of the family have to figure out how to relate to each other - how to live as a family.

A job that provided for your family, and gave you satisfaction and a sense of identity - is lost. Now you are dealing with a pack of howling doubts about how you are going to make it, and even whispers asking who are you and are you capable of getting another job. The tightness in your throat, the rumbling in your stomach just won't go away. And your family is looking at your for guidance and for security.

That's living on Saturday, isn't it. The Saturday between Good Friday and Easter.

So let's embrace it for what it can teach us about God and His relationship with those who love Him.

First, let's eliminate the biggest fear. God is not dead, He is not asleep, He isn't pretending not to notice our pains and sorrows. We might think so based on what we've seen happen, but if Easter teaches us anything, it should be that God is always at work - even when we can't see Him.So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.”Deut 31:6 (NLT) BTW, that's repeated in Hebrews 13 as well.

So God is at work, then what is this experience designed to do? Well, what were we told about faith?
1 Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. Heb 11:1 (NLT)

Listen - I've been there and done this too many times. When the storms come, you have to move toward a deeper understanding and practice of your faith. You have to put your fears and doubts behind you and use them as a push to go farther. It's NOT EASY. It'll take more of you than you'll realized you had. But that's because you didn't have it - your absence of what it took created the perfect opportunity for the Holy Spirit to work in and through you. God showed up BIG TIME that first Easter weekend, and His power is available to you today. Resurrection power.

Think about it. Pray about it. Then go out and live an Easter life no matter what day it is.

When Easter breaks through in your life and Christ is revealed as Lord of all - including your situation - you'll think of your "Saturday" as the black velvet backdrop for your faith shining like diamonds.

It may be Saturday - but Sunday's coming.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Good Friday 2010

We've had ten years of Good Friday services at New Hope, but few have been as intimate and moving as tonight's gathering. The observance is always the most serious we do all year, and everyone who comes seems to understand that we're preparing our hearts for Easter by remembering the cost of our salvation. Amy's reading of "The Cost" in particular was awesomely moving. Here's the worship outline.

Scripture: Revelation 6:12-17
Message: “The Wrath of the Lamb”

The Shadow of Betrayal
Reading: Luke 22:1-6
The Shadow of the Agony of the Spirit
Reading: Matthew 26:36-44
Response: Scenes from the Passion 5:00

The Shadow of Arrest
Reading: Mark 14:43-49

The Shadow of Desertion
Reading: Mark 14:50, 66-72
Response: “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” 4:29

The Shadow of Accusation
Reading: Matthew 27:11-18, 21-26
Response: “The Cost” – Amy Anderson

The Shadow of Crucifixion & Humiliation
Reading: Matthew 27:27-37
Response: “Surely He hath Borne Our Grief”

The Shadow of Death
Reading: Matthew 27:45-54
Response: “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”
The Christ Candle Is Removed.


The Shadow of Burial
Reading: John 19:38-42
Response: “Were You There”

Silent Reflection
It’s Friday – But Sunday’s Coming 


It's Friday... but Sunday's coming

Finished preparing for Good Friday and realized that it is one of those worship gatherings that I strip down to the essentials and it feels "right." In the smaller church, we're not going to talk much about "production values" or "striving for excellence" as some others might do. There are things that size affects, and producing a "wow-filled" worship experience with all the latest technology is one of them. The tools just aren't there.

But I don't want them to be. I want the gift of simplicity. Oh we'll use powerpoint, and video - but those are as common in churches now as casseroles. The biggest impact that will come in worship tonight though will probably be through one of two things - The Scripture, or the encroaching darkness as the "Service of Shadows" plays out.

To sit in silence and listen to what our Lord and Savior endured on our behalf, and to feel the stillness and increasing gloom of Good Friday seems to transport us back into a group of fearful, grieving disciples, who have seen all their hopes die. They don't know what we know. They think the story has ended in the worst possible way.

We know it's Friday - but Sunday's coming.

Can't wait.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

There are all kinds of thieves.

When you read the gospel of Luke, you see how concerned God is with the lost and the broken - the not perfect. Luke's account of Jesus' ministry is full of His seeking and saving - whether it's the 1 sheep gone out of 99, or one prodigal son. Luke's Jesus is full of forgiveness, and easy to get to know.

Now He's one among three men  - in agony nailed to crosses, one spewing hatred, one seeking forgiveness, and the other weeping blood with the power to cancel all sins. Jesus' story began in filth and squalor, with outcasts to share the scene. No surprise then that here at the end, His companions once again are the least of society - thieves.

Jesus hadn't had kind words for thieves before -
10 The thief's purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give life in all its fullness. John 10:10 (NLT)

Those two are usually at cross-purposes. But today they met at the cross.

Jesus had already spoken words of forgiveness. Now anything He said was coming through a constant struggle just to breathe  - so each took a bit of the strength He had left. And one thief spent his reserves in a rant against Jesus. True to the very end to what he was, he asked Jesus to prove His worth by freeing Himself - and them besides. He saw no need to hold back anything he felt. If he couldn't figure a way to save himself, then why not go out cursing everyone else.

But in this awful place, within this tortured time, a faith began as one man took stock of his life. We aren't told how he got here - what went on in his youth, the wrong turns, the bitter reverses - or whether he ever did any one thing good.

What we are told is that he has measured himself and found himself lacking. Lacking by man's rule of law, and lacking in faith in God. Yet even as he saw how far short he fell of perfection, a belief began to grow that he was in the presence of One Who was. he says to the other thief -

"Don't you fear God even when you are dying? 41 We deserve to die for our evil deeds, but this man hasn't done anything wrong." Luke 23:41 (NLT)

And then he does something remarkable. 
Having heard no sermon, having received no tract, having done no act of charity, and certainly having given no offering - he asks one thing of Jesus.

"Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom."

And just at that moment, all the wheels of justice come to a sudden halt. All the momentum of a life spent in crime, all the bitterness and hatred of failure, everything in his whole life pauses as Jesus replies,

"I assure you, today you will be with Me in paradise."

Today! With Jesus! In paradise! Old life ended in agony and shame. 

New life begun - Today!

Can I ask you a question?

Which kind of thief are you?

I don't mean to be harsh, just the opposite. Because that hill Jesus was on isn't very different than the land we live on. You know that at the moment Luke records, the area around the cross was populated with only two kinds of people. Same as the world is inhabited by today.

There are those who are blind to any need of a Savior, and those who have faced up to the facts of just how much they have failed and just how perfect the Man on the middle cross is. Nothing has changed. You are either blind to who you really are, or you know.

At this point maybe you think such guilt by association is weak. Maybe you have never filched a Brach's candy "sample" from your local supermarket, or "fudged" a little on that 1040A. And maybe when you compare yourself to a Hussein or a Hitler, or even a bank robber, you feel pretty good.

But just because you've never been caught in a crime doesn't mean you are exempt from the human condition. "All have sinned and fallen short" includes, well, all. You. Me. Everyone. 
Good enough, is not good enough for God. 

Have you ever stolen the smile off a child's face, who cannot help but grin at the incredible joy of life - by harsh words like, "Will you cut that out and straighten up"? Or maybe you've crushed the dreams of a teenager when you said, "You'll never amount to anything. You are just like your ____ ." Then too there's the puncture of a vision, the deflation of a hope with, "we've never done that before and it will never work."

There are all kinds of ways to steal. Steal hope. Steal joy. Steal peace. And yes, steal stuff.
We are all thieves. We all have sinned and fallen so, so, short. We aren't almost perfect, and even if we were, we'd be lost in our sins. Good enough- isn't.

On a cross next to ours though, hangs a man eager to hear from us. A man Who even here, at life's very extremity, is still seeking to save the lost.

Today! With Jesus! Today!  

You can find peace with God... today. 

Own up to who you are, ask Jesus for forgiveness and courage and power to change. Commit right now to turning away from sin and selfishness and decide to follow Jesus as Lord of your life.

Today! You can be pardoned - today!



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