Deathbed Conversions

“And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And he [Jesus] said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise’” (Luke 23:42-43)

Sometimes we hear of conversions at the end of a person’s life and question their validity. This is particularly the case when that person has done horrible things and are now facing the consequences of their actions. We think that perhaps they’re looking for sympathy for having to suffer those consequences, maybe even hoping with enough sympathy they may even avoid the ultimate consequence, death itself. I guess it’s hard to know for sure if to claim Christ in that moment was genuine or not. Quite frankly, I find myself a little skeptical when I hear stories like this. Perhaps I shouldn’t because the truth is, we have no idea what means God may use to save a soul. And the story of the thief on the cross, I believe, illustrates that very point.

The gospel of Luke gives us the greatest detail about the crucifixion of Jesus. It is also the only gospel account that specifically tells of His interaction with the thief that hung beside Him. Jesus was crucified between two criminals. As people passed by, they mocked and railed against Jesus. One of the criminals joined in “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39). Jesus didn’t respond, but the other criminal rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:40-41). He then turned to Jesus and said “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus’ responded saying “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:42-43).

What an amazing story of God’s grace. There’s so much we can learn from the story of the thief on the cross. The first is how gracious God is in spite of our sin. In the case of the thief on the cross, most likely, a lifetime of sin. Salvation for this man was Jesus’ gracious gift to him. It was free. His sins were forgiven because the One hanging next to him was bearing the penalty for it at that very moment. The second lesson is that we don’t have to have lived a perfect life to be saved. We can’t. For the thief on the cross, it was nothing more than a simple expression of faith at the end of his life. A final lesson from the story of the thief on the cross is that we should never give up on sharing the gospel. Just as God has ordained who will be saved, He has also ordained the means and the time of salvation. It was the reality of impending death that proved to be the event God used to save the thief on the cross. God’s timing is always perfect. Let’s not presume to know who is beyond His grace. Just be thankful that Christ has paid the penalty for your sin. Salvation doesn’t rest on a lifetime of goodness, but comes only by grace through faith in Christ. Let this be an encouragement to share that truth with those whose lives seem contrary to deserving the grace our God gives.

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All Things in His Hands

“He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding” (Daniel 2:21)

I love politics. I especially love it around the time of major national elections. I must admit though that I sometimes think I pin my hopes for the future on who wins. Sure, there are consequences that result from the outcome of elections, but at the end of the day, there are much greater things at stake. This doesn’t mean that as Christians we are not to participate in the political process. We are. In fact, the Bible speaks directly about how the Christian community is to engage with government. It also speaks to the appropriate role of government (Romans 13:1-7). Too often, neither the government nor us as Christians live up to that role.

The primary theme of the book of Daniel is God’s sovereignty over history. God’s sovereignty is, in fact, made clear throughout the Bible. Government was instituted by God. As such, just as all things do, government and those who hold high office in it, do so only at His will. The struggles that exist today within governments will one day end with the LORD’s reign. His reign will be the last.

Recognition of God’s sovereignty over all things should never be mistaken as a call for passivity on the part of Christians. We are to be active in the political process and we should always let God’s will expressed in His Word guide our decisions. We can take great comfort, however, in knowing that our hope for the future is not determined by which political party control Congress. It does not lie in a President Obama, a President Trump, Sanders or Clinton. Our hope is found only in a Savior named Jesus Christ and our eternal futures are tied only to what we believe about Him. In this and all political seasons, I need to trust that truth more. Our God is sovereign, our God is faithful and for those who love Him, He works ALL things together for our good, and most importantly, for His glory. Lord, let that penetrate our souls in a greater way.

Cornerstone

“therefore thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: Whoever believes will not be in haste’” (Isaiah 28:16)

The New Year always seems to be an appropriate time to reassess the past and perhaps reorder our priorities. It just seems the right time to consider necessary changes as we move forward into the future. The first Sunday of the New Year, our pastor taught from the beginning verses of Isaiah 41. I’m not sure whether the passage was chosen specifically for the first Sunday, but it was certainly an appropriate one. In his sermon, he encouraged us to know and experience both the greatness of God and His presence in our lives. One of the primary passages in the text was Isaiah 41:10, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand”. In this same service we sang several songs whose themes aligned with what was taught. One of the songs was Cornerstone, a remake of an old hymn written in 1834, known today as “The Solid Rock”. The song has an updated chorus that was written and recorded by several members of the worship group Hillsong, and was born out of a mass shooting that took place in Norway in 2011. In an interview about what inspired the song, one of the co-writers indicated that circumstances such as this shooting are reminders that when everything appears to be shaken and nothing seems to make sense, we really need to put our faith in Jesus, the Cornerstone.

In ancient building practices, a cornerstone was the large stone that served as the foundation for the entire structure. It was a special piece that needed to be perfectly set. In a figurative sense, a cornerstone is the thing we build our life around. It is what we value the most. It is what we prioritize. It is what we say “no” to other things for because we have said “yes” to it, and of course, it is what we stand on in times of uncertainty. When speaking about the Lord, we find the image of a stone or rock used in both the Old and New Testaments. The point of Isaiah 28:16 is that God has established a sure foundation for His people, a sure foundation that the Old Testament points to and the New Testament reveals. This sure foundation is Jesus Christ. Peter referred to Christ as a “living stone” as He is both the source and giver of eternal life. Those who trusted in Him he called “living stones” (1 Peter 2:4-5). For those who rejected His Word, Jesus became a stone of stumbling (1 Peter 2:8). He is a stone of stumbling for those who reject Him today.

As years pass, the pace at which they go seems only to increase. That begs the question, not because it’s the New Year, but because the answer has eternal consequences. Is Christ your cornerstone? Have you put your trust in Him? Is He your priority? Is He the “rock” upon which you stand? Maybe this is the year to make some changes and put Jesus in His rightful place. In this New Year, why not try standing on the solid rock of Christ, because the truth is, all other ground really is just sinking sand.

Sovereign in Every Circumstance

“So it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:8)

For all Joseph’s brothers subjected him to, it would have been easy for bitterness to consume him. His brothers wanted to kill him, but instead sold him into slavery in Egypt. He was seventeen. They did it because they were jealous of how much their father Jacob loved Joseph. It didn’t help matters that Joseph also told them of his dream, a dream that they would one day bow down to him. It only made them hate him more. Joseph’s brothers sought to do, and did evil to Joseph.

For a large part of his life, Joseph was cheated out of many things he might have enjoyed; the opportunity to spend time with his family, including his younger brother whom he had never met and the father he loved greatly. He was also subjected to various challenging circumstances along the way. But whatever the circumstance, Joseph always found favor with God and in the end was reunited with his brothers and his father. God’s great purpose for Joseph was to preserve the Hebrew people, a remnant on earth (Genesis 45:7). The complete Joseph narrative is found in Genesis 37-50.

Scripture teaches that for those who love God, all things work together for good (Romans 8:28). But good doesn’t always mean easy. Joseph’s life is testimony of this truth. During his times of testing, Joseph exhibited faithful obedience and trust in the Lord each step of the way. He recognized that what his brothers meant for evil, God meant for good (Genesis 50:20). He grasped the important truth that everything that happens, happens only under the sovereign hand of God.

Evil is real, life is full of storms and sometimes our circumstances can be overwhelming. This can lead to bitterness. But our God is greater. Trusting in His sovereignty is not only a help when evil dawns, but also comforts through life’s storms and protects us by keeping bitterness from taking root, robbing us of the joy of our salvation. God’s sovereignty puts perspective around our circumstances. People and circumstances may come against you, but as He was with Joseph, God is with you. Be faithful to obey and trust in the Lord’s sovereignty knowing that He is working both for your good and His glory.