Friday, March 29, 2024

You will be with me in paradise

Luke 23:32, 39–43 (NIV)

32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

What an interesting exchange we have here. Three men on a cross. All of them probably gasping for breath but still able to speak. One insults Jesus. One sees his innocence. One taunts him. One begs for mercy.

That’s what the cross does – it either turns you into a cynical skeptic or a penitent believer. It’s just like Paul says:  1 Corinthians 1:18 (NIV) — 18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

So today, Good Friday, we are come to the cross. What is our reaction? What is your reaction? Is the cross foolishness or power? Do you mock Jesus or do you come in penitence? What is your reaction? Because our reaction to the cross makes all the difference in the world. We can get what we deserve or we can beg for mercy and find forgiveness.

I find it quite amazing that Jesus says anything at this point. When I am in pain I just want to be left alone. I don’t want to talk to people. I especially don’t want to mediate a dispute between people. I probably would have just remained silent or told them both to just be quiet. If I said anything it might have been something like, “Can’t you see I’m dying here. Leave me alone.”

But isn’t this just like Jesus. He never ignores the genuine cry of mercy. When the leper called out to be healed, Jesus responded. When the apostles cried out in the storm, Jesus calmed the sea. When the hemorrhaging woman touched the hem of his garment, Jesus stopped. Jesus never ignores a cry of mercy.

What is your cry? He hears. He cares. He responds.

And isn’t his response so beautiful – Today you will be with me in paradise.

Paradise. Even on the cross paradise is on Jesus’s mind. I think it was always on Jesus’s mind. And that thought, the thought of Paradise powered him through difficult times. "For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame." (Hebrews 12:2) Jesus was obsessed with Paradise even in the pain. Am I? Are you? Is paradise always on our mind?

You see, Jesus doesn’t miraculously free the criminal from the cross but he urges him to look forward. All your pain, all your guilt, all your worry, all your fear, all your unmet needs will soon be a distant memory because you will be with me in paradise.

What is your cry? He hears. He cares. He responds. Hear him say to you today, from the cross and because of the cross – you will be with me in paradise.

The pain may not go away but the promise of paradise – it is more than we deserve and it is more than we can imagine.

Jesus says the same to you as he said to the penitent thief – you will be with me in paradise!

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

A Good Start Matters

I can remember it like it was yesterday. It was my sixth-grade field day when all the elementary schools gathered for a series of track and field events at the town’s high school track. It was a sunny New England spring morning and I was representing Glen Forest Elementary School in the 50-yard dash. There were several preliminary heats before the final and only the top finishers would move on to the next round. In one of my proudest athletic accomplishments of my young life I went on to win that preliminary round. I can still remember breaking the tape at the finish line and being congratulated by my classmates. It was pure joy. I had advanced to the finals.

After a short break, the qualifiers lined up for the finals. We waited for the gun to sound to start the race. Visions of glory swept through my mind when I heard the firing of the gun and the race began. But tragedy struck! As I began my acceleration, instead of my feet propelling me forward, my shoes kicked up gravel from the track and I found myself face first on the ground as the others sped forward to the finish line. As quickly as possible, I got to my feet and enthusiastically tried to catch up, but my poor start had doomed me to a last place finish.

No one can know how I would have done had I not slipped, but one thing I learned from that experience is how important it is to get off to a good start.

Every day is a 50-yard dash of sorts. We have people to see, tasks to accomplish, calls to make. Add to that the unexpected events that will pop up along the way. How we handle our day can largely depend on how we start our day.  If we get off to a bad start, try as we might, we could very well find ourselves coming in last. If we get off to a good start, we undoubtedly will increase our probability of success.

If we want our interactions with people to be constructive; if we want to accomplish our tasks with gracefulness and proficiency; if we want to leave behind a trail of joy and peace wherever we go it is vital to start the day well.

Here are some ideas:

  1. Wake up each day realizing that today is a gift from God that will never come again. Once today is gone, you can never relive it.
  2. Commit your day to the Lord. You are only here because God has created you to be here. The day is His, not yours.
  3. Pray for the specific tasks you have that day and the specific people you will interact with. Begin the day by intentionally bringing goodness and optimism into every task and every interaction you will have. Pray that you can gracefully handle those unexpected tasks and encounters.
  4. Spend at least a little time in the Word. Allow God to speak truth to you as you live is a world that too often lies.

Start your day well and increase your chance of victory!