The Same Mind in the Lord

Currently we have a lot of conflict in our world and differing views over a lot of subjects. In the last year we have had riots, marches, protests and ongoing online battles on social media. There is a good deal of discussion of ‘polarization.’ Mores so in the US than in Canada. So, let’s take a look at how we see others.

Some of you may recognize that the title is a quote from a portion of Philippians 4:2. We know from what Paul wrote that there was some disagreement between Euodia and Syntyche (any of you have friends or children with these names?). We also know from 4:3 that these two women were co-labourers with Paul in spreading the gospel.

We learn from these two verses that people who are serious about the gospel can have conflict. We also have a record in Acts of conflict between Paul and Barnabas that led to their separation after they had been friends who journeyed together and taught together (Acts 15:36-40). What I want to address here is what we do with conflict. Howver, I am not going over the process Jesus presented to us in Matthew 18. Instead I want to look at our perceptions.

Our first impulse in addressing conflict seems to be determining who was right and who was wrong. However, that is not the most important piece. In fact, there may not be a right and wrong on some issues. We don’t know what the disagreement was between Euodia and Syntyche or whether it was resolved. We know that while Paul and Barnabas had a significant disagreement over John Mark, later Paul was working with the one he rejected.   

10 Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, with Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him), Colossians 4:10 (NKJV)

23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, 24 as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow laborers. Philemon 1:23-24 (NKJV)

In addition to traveling with Barnabas and Paul, is believed to have also spent time with Peter in Rome where he wrote down the Gospel of Mark. A record of what was passed on to him by Peter.

Paul being reconciled to Mark does not however tell us whether Paul or Barnabas was right. It does tell us that the Lord brought something good out of the conflict and there was a later reconciliation. What we need to do in our relationships is draw on His grace to walk in wisdom. We may understand scripture passages differently. We may be Calvinists and have friends who are Arminians – two conflicting theological positions. Yet if we embrace something else Paul taught, we can walk in love and fruitfulness in the midst of differing theological positions. After all, scripture exhorts us to a unity of faith and Jesus prayed for this unity. Not a unity of dotting all the I’s and crossing all the T’s of our theological positions, but a unity of the Spirit.

20 “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. 22 And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: 23 I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. John 17:20-23 (NKJV)

1 I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, 2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3 endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. Ephesians 4:1-6 (NKJV)

We do well to consider that many conflicts may be less a matter of right and wrong and more the inevitable outcome of fallen people living in a fallen world. People have different perceptions of the same event. At times someone is clearly wrong in their behaviour but having been involved in doing mediations for decades I could tell many stories. I have seen people who didn’t want to be in the same room together suddenly have their conflict evaporate when I got them to listen to one another. I have seen people suing one another riding home in the same vehicle after a mediation. I have seen someone who was the aggrieved party offering to help organize the wedding of the person they were suing.

My point, instead of looking through a lens of right and wrong I recommend we put on our 1 Corinthians 13 glasses and take our first look through the eyes of grace filled love that,

7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:7 (NKJV)   

We may find that we simply see things differently and can learn from one another – through grace filled love.

This World is not my Home

This is a line from an old hymn and it was a popular idea in the church for a long time. A related popular expression is that we are to be ‘in the world but not of it.’ Regardless of what we think it is important to see what the scriptures have to say regarding the issue so we can respond with a right heart.

Jesus did say clearly that His kingdom was not of this world

36  Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” John 18:36 (NKJV)

Note that Jesus spoke this prior to His crucifixion and resurrection. After His resurrection in The Great Commission, He spoke differently.

18  And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20  teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. Matthew 28:18-20 (NKJV)

Here Jesus directs us to go under His authority to extend His kingdom in the earth. He wants us to contend for what He achieved through His sacrifice for us. I raise this issue because for much of the 20th Century the dominant theology in much of the evangelical community was the idea that things would get worse and worse for the church. Jesus would then come and rescue a weakened persecuted church from the ravages of the world |(the pretribulation rapture) and punish the evildoers while the church watched from heaven.

Aside from the above seeming to be a rather ‘unkind’ theology, I personally have never been able to find it in scripture and it seems to be at odds with The Great Commission. In fact, Jesus told us something else as well, a sign of His return.

14  And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:14 (NKJV)

Whatever our ideas are, Jesus seems to have the idea that the gospel is to spread to all nations all over the earth. While His kingdom is not ‘of’ this world it is designed to spread in the world and influence culture prior to His return. I do not have all of my end time theology settled. What I do have settled is that I need to heed Jesus over popular theology and do my part to live in and out of His kingdom while I am here and able. After all, when the end does come He is not taking us out of the world, He is bringing the fullness of His kingdom to this world, a renewed earth. The world will be our home.

1  Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. 2  Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. Revelation 21:1-2 (NKJV)

Dealing with Dichotomy

In recent months I was listening to an interview on the radio. The host was interviewing a professor and researcher about mindfulness. The professor was lamenting how the practice of mindfulness had been commercialized. An example he gave was Google programming staff being trained in mindfulness so they could be more focused in their jobs. OF course the obvious irony here is that much of what they were doing was creating ads and programs to distract others! Quite the dichotomy.

In Hebrews we have an apparent dichotomy. From the end of chapter 3 to the end of 4 the focus is on entering the rest of the Lord. Here is a brief excerpt.

8 For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. 9 There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. 10 For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. 11 Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience. Hebrews 4:8-11 (NKJV)

Verse 11 is where our dichotomy shows up, being diligent to enter rest. The English Standard Version says, “strive to enter that rest.” No matter how the Greek word is translated into English, the point being made is that entering rest takes effort. Our task is understanding the effort required to enter rest.

Prior to the above verses the writer of Hebrews referenced what happened to the children of Israel in the wilderness with his primary point being that they failed to enter into rest due to disobedience and rebellion. His point being that they failed to trust God. We become His house and enter His rest not by accomplishing some work but by trusting in what Jesus has accomplished. Here is how the writer of Hebrews put it.

4 For every house is built by someone, but He who built all things is God. 5 And Moses indeed was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which would be spoken afterward, 6 but Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end. Hebrews 3:4-6 (NKJV)

The diligence or effort required of us to enter His rest is retaining our confidence in Jesus and His finished work. In many ways the book of Hebrews carries the same message Paul presented in Galatians. A need to trust Jesus and not turn back to the works of the law for salvation. We cannot earn our salvation. We can trust in what Jesus has accomplished, maintain our focus there, and then have what it says in Hebrews. Free unfettered access to the throne of grace. 

14 Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16 (NKJV)

So let’s focus or efforts on trusting what Jesus has already accomplished and live in and from that place of rest before the throne of grace.

The Illusion of Control

For anyone who has seen the movie A Few Good Men the classic climatic scene comes in the courtroom when Jack Nicholson, as Colonel Jessep, takes great exception to being challenged by the young lawyer and believing himself to be in charge begins to self destruct with the now famous line, “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!” The line has been repeated over and over because of what it conveys. Yet in the movie Jessep displays confusion when he is arrested after his speech. He stills saw himself as the one in charge, when in fact that ship sailed the moment he launched into his angry tirade and heated confession. It was the military judge, not Colonel Jessep, who was in charge, he simply failed to recognize that fact. The truth was something Colonel Jessep himself could not handle.  

We now switch to another courtroom scene with the illusion of control. Our court scene plays out in Acts 4. Peter and John are arrested and then brought before the religious court. They are challenged to give an account.

7 And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, “By what power or by what name have you done this?” Acts 4:7 (NKJV)

The religious leaders recognized what had been done by Peter and John but they didn’t like the implications so tried to suppress any further acts. They saw the source as Peter and John rather than the God they claimed to serve. Here they had convened a court to judge Peter and John, believing they were in control and exercising the authority given them by God. In fact they lost that authority when they sat and condemned Jesus and now refused to recognize the hand of God in their midst. They acknowledged the miracle, yet because they recognized that it threatened their idea of control, they tried to suppress anything further. Like Colonel Jessep, they could not handle the truth.

15 But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, 16 saying, “What shall we do to these men? For, indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name.” Acts 4:15-17 (NKJV)

Clinging to the illusion of still being in charge, they commanded nothing more be done in Jesus’ name. Peter and John rightly rejected their command because they had no illusions. They knew who Jesus was and that He was in control.

            18 And they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. 20 For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” 21 So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way of punishing them, because of the people, since they all glorified God for what had been done. 22 For the man was over forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed. Acts 4:18-22 (NKJV)

The religious leaders recognized their lack of power in practice but refused to let go of their belief they were the decision makers in spite of evidence to the contrary. Their focus was on political expediency not truth and justice. However, God is always concerned with truth and justice. As a result He is faithful and consistent, and what took place through Peter and John was simply a demonstration of His continued faithfulness. So, if we ever wonder who is really in charge we only need to look to Jesus and submit to His authority. We can then let go of any illusions of control by ourselves or others and rest confidently in His faithfulness.

Love Acts

‘Love.’ We use the word a lot. I think it is important to look at love in the context of how Jesus framed it in connection to obedience and abiding in Him. Much has been written on the lack of distinction between Christians and others in the surrounding culture in our time. This highlights the importance of how we live before others as a follower of Jesus. So, let’s take a look at what how scripture calls us to live from what John has written.

In chapter 15 John records Jesus exhorting us to abide in Him if we are to be fruitful.  

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.

Clearly to be fruitful we need to abide in Jesus so we need to examine what it means to abide.

As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.

Jesus says we abide in Him by keeping His commandments, and that as we do we will find ourselves resting in His love for us. Jesus makes an important connection between love and obedience. Jesus said His abiding in the Father’s love was an outcome of Him keeping His Father’s commands. Now, lest you think this will move us to legalism, it isn’t a salvation issue, it is a love issue. Jesus is telling us that to abide in His love we need to be obedient.  

Jesus call to obey His commandments is not a call to the Mosaic Law. It is a call to action.

12 This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.

Love in these verses is agape, a sacrificial benevolent love. Jesus said we are to lay down our lives for our friends and that if we obey His commands, we are His friend. We can interpret the laying down of our lives as dying for someone else but as Paul put it elsewhere, “I die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31). This is a better application. We love others as we live for others and seek to serve them out of that love. That is how Paul died daily. So, let’s follow Jesus and Paul, laying down our lives in love so that the world may know who we are, friends of Jesus!

Martha, Martha

Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus are famous in the church for their interactions with Jesus. Martha is famous for serving and being rebuked by Jesus for making the wrong choice of serving instead of listening, while Mary is famous for the good choice of sitting at Jesus feet and listening (Luke 10:38-42). At issue here is whether a single interaction should define our legacy and the need for a deeper look at Martha and her heart. After all, I suspect that most of us would not want our life defined by one mistake we made.

We are told to not judge a book by the cover yet for most of us Martha being rebuked by Jesus is the cover of her book! Aside from this interaction in Luke 10 it is helpful to see what else scripture tells us about Martha. To attempt to discern her heart based on what scripture reveals. let’s leave Mary out of the picture and focus in on Martha. We have the following interaction just prior to Jesus raising Lazarus.

20 Now Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house. 21 Now Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

27 She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” John 11:20–27 (NKJV)

We learn from Martha’s interaction with Jesus that she had faith in Jesus ability to heal and that she recognized Jesus as the long awaited Messiah (the terms Christ and Messiah are interchangeable and both mean The Anointed One). Martha was confident in who Jesus was and trusted Him. We next see Martha after Lazarus has been raised.

1Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead. There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him. John 12:1–2 (NKJV)

Martha had a heart to serve and she clearly loved and honoured Jesus. It is significant as this meal takes place at the home of Simon the leper (Matthew 26:6-7, Mark 14:3). We can safely assume Simon had been healed as a leper would not be hosting a meal in his house. Thus we know that Martha is serving in the home of someone else. This time we have no record of any rebuke by Jesus and Martha is not contrasted with Mary who extravagantly pours perfume on Jesus. She is merely noted as one who has a servant’s heart.

A last look at Martha through the eyes of scripture. I doubt this short verse spring to mind when we think of Martha but there it is recorded in scripture for all to see.

5Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. John 11:5 NKJV

Knowing that Jesus loved Martha I think there are two primary lessons we can draw from what we know about Martha. First, serving Jesus and others is good thing. After all there are numerous calls to service in the scriptures. Micah 6:8, said to be a summary statement of the Law, it is a call to justice, mercy and a humble walk with God. A call to service. The second lesson is that serving when we should be sitting at His feet is the wrong choice just as sitting in contemplation when He is calling us to action is also a bad thing. Let us embrace serving and sitting, seeking Jesus heart and the wisdom to know when to serve and when to sit at His feet.

An Engaged Heart

If we have been in the church for any time at all we have probably heard about the wickedness of our hearts, often in reference to Christians. It is generally some version of these verses from Jeremiah.

9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? 10 I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings. Jeremiah 17:9–10 (NKJV)

When we read a message in scripture proper exegesis is required. We look at who it was written to and the context and culture. In this case Jeremiah was speaking to his fellow Israelites and confronting their idolatry and failure to trust Yahweh. What Jeremiah spoke was true, in the context in which he spoke it. For our situations we need one of those maps that says, ‘You are here.’ I do a lot of hiking and the national parks have small maps in the backcountry but they are of little help if that little dot that locates your position relative to the rest of the map is not there.

For our spiritual walk we need that dot on the map of our journey with Jesus. To that end let us look at what the scriptures tell us about our hearts and where we are. We will start with what Jesus had to say.

43 “For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. 45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:43–45 (NKJV)

Notice here that Jesus was addressing people who had not been born again by the Spirit. Yet He stated that people could bring forth either good or evil from their hearts. His point was that what was dominant in our hearts is what would come out of our mouths and be reflected in our lives. So those who were not born again but were committed to the Lord could bring good things out of their hearts. Our next step is looking at the hearts of those who have been born again. Here is some of what Peter and Paul had to say about our hearts at conversion.

And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them “Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Acts 15:7-9 (NKJV)

For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:6 (NKJV)

At conversion our hearts encountered Jesus as we were born again and our hearts were purified and made new. Paul did warn about the dangers about what we could fall back into if we did not guard our hearts (see also Proverbs 4:23).

17 This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; 19 who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. Ephesians 4:17–19 (NKJV)

While Paul presented this as the way in which unbelievers in general lived, and warned that Christians could fall to this, his regular practice focused more on encouragement and how to walk with Jesus. One of the more practical teachings Paul gave to keep our hearts anchored in Jesus is in Colossians.

14 But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. 15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. 17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Colossians 3:14–17 (NKJV)

Paul informs us that if we choose to walk in Jesus love and engage in a lifestyle of worship and encouragement we can learn to live out of hearts that are at rest in His shalom. This creates a continuous circle of looking to His peace, leaning into it, our hearts being full and overflowing with worship, then leaning into His peace and so on. So let us live lifestyles of worship and intimacy that out of the abundance of our hearts others will encounter Jesus.

Righteousness and Justice

Frankly, there are some things difficult to either understand or accept in the scriptures, particularly in the Old Testament. When I come up against things like this I have a default scripture that I turn to as my source. I still may not understand but I remain in a place of trust and acceptance. The scripture is found in context of Abraham interceding with the Lord for Sodom. Abraham concludes his intercession in the following manner.

25 Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Genesis 18:25 (NKJV)

The phrase I turn to often is the last sentence, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” I have a fundamental and unwavering belief that righteousness and justice are important and that He is just and shall do right. That is not a question in my mind. I know we shall all have to eventually give an account before the Judgement Seat of Christ and trust He is a fair and faithful judge who shall execute righteousness and justice.

Now I also believe it is not wise to build a theology off a single verse of scripture. So here are some of the verses in the Old Testament that refer to the importance of righteousness and justice.

19 For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.” Genesis 18:19 (NKJV)

         5 He loves righteousness and justice; The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord. Psalm 33:5 (NKJV)

         14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; Mercy and truth go before Your face. Psalm 89:14 (NKJV)

         2 Clouds and darkness surround Him; Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne. Psalm 97:2 (NKJV)

         9 Then you will understand righteousness and justice, Equity and every good path. Proverbs 2:9 (NKJV)

         3 To do righteousness and justice Is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. Proverbs 21:3 (NKJV)

The first passage refers to the beginning of Abraham’s intercession for Sodom and Yahweh explains why He has made Himself known to Abraham, so Abraham can teach his descendants and household to follow Yahweh’s way, to keep righteousness and justice. This makes sense when we discover later in scripture that righteousness and justice are they very foundation of His throne. His rule, His place of authority is built upon righteousness and justice. He cannot do anything that violates righteousness and justice.

Our sensibilities may recoil at His destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah but sometimes evil is so entrenched and infectious in a people or area that it needs to be eradicated. Things may not appear that way from where we see but we need to learn to look from His perspective. Sin is like a cancer that destroys if left unchecked. I know in my own life the dangers of cancer being untreated. I have had two surgeries for cancer, both of which caused physical pain, particularly the second. Interestingly I had no pain from cancer, something that was destroying me inside and unseen. Prior to my second surgery I felt fine, had recovered well from the first surgery and was ready to get on with life. All the tests had been run and there was no evidence of further cancer. The surgeon wanted to perform the second surgery as a precautionary measure. I was reluctant but gave in to pressure from my wife. It saved my life. After the operation the surgeon told me that when he opened me up he discovered a cancerous tumour the size of a grapefruit around my aorta. I would have died in the near future.

The point of my story is that to all appearances I was fine. Though I felt fine something unseen inside me was killing me and needed to be dealt with. Our Father, because He rules from a place of righteousness and justice, knows what needs to be dealt with in our world and how it is best addressed. He sees the reality that lies behind appearances. Knowing this, we, like Abraham, can partner with Him in prayer asking that righteousness and justice be done. We can do this while at the same time acknowledging that even if things don’t look as we think they should, the judge of all the earth will do right. 

Knowing that the throne He rules and reigns from is actually built upon righteousness and justice makes it easy to trust that He will do right. With this perspective let us open His word and come to His throne agreeing with His heart, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done. On earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10).

Using Time Wisely

Do you ever wonder if you have the time or ability to make an impact on the lives of others? Is it too late? This past winter I heard a quote on a television show. The quote was attributed to US President Roosevelt and when I researched it the quote was accurate. The quote said, “Do what you can with what you have where you are.” While I am sure we could all think of examples of people effectively walking in their gifts and callings I will highlight one example from scripture. The thief on the cross.

So, a look at what the thief on the cross could do with what he had where he was. Below are the accounts from both Matthew and Luke, beginning with Matthew.

38 Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and another on the left.

39 And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads 40 and saying, “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”

41 Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, 42 “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. 43 He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ”

44 Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing. Matthew 27:38–44 (NKJV)

33 And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

And they divided His garments and cast lots. 35 And the people stood looking on. But even the rulers with them sneered, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God.”

36 The soldiers also mocked Him, coming and offering Him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.”

38 And an inscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew:


39 Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.”

40 But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”

43 And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Luke 23:33–43 (NKJV)

We know from the text in Matthew that the two men were robbers (Matt. 27:38, 44) while Luke simply refers to them as criminals (Lk. 23:33, 39). In his passage Matthew informs us that as Jesus is hanging on the cross He is being mocked by the crowd, the religious leaders and the two criminals. Luke however has the one criminal, popularly referred to as ‘the thief on the cross,’ defending Jesus and rebuking his fellow criminal.

Obviously something happened in the heart of the one criminal as he hung there dying. He went form mocking Jesus to defending Him and asking for His grace in the next life. Returning to our theme, doing what we can with what we have where we are, this man clearly had limited options. He couldn’t go anywhere as he was fixed in place on an instrument of cruel torture. It was a struggle to simply draw a breath and it would have made sense for him to have simply remained resigned to the inevitable outcome. Yet in spite of his circumstances, or perhaps because of them, the thief on the cross underwent a transformation. He began to speak on Jesus behalf. He had begun by mocking Jesus but then something happened in his heart and he recognized Jesus as Messiah and King. What is usually presented regarding this story is the ability to gain salvation at any moment, up to our last breath. However, even while right near death the man went through repentance, a change of mind and heart, and began to be a witness for Jesus. He asserted Jesus innocence, defended Him from false accusation and recognized Jesus as king.

The result of him doing what he could with what he had where he was? Jesus tells us, that very day while his fellow unrepentant thief was going to step from time into eternity and encounter horror, this man received the following assurance from Jesus, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Lk. 23:43).

So, as it relates to being effective in and for Jesus kingdom let us reflect on what we have in terms of our abilities and do what we can with them where we are.

The Gateway to the Eternal

In Genesis 28:10-22 we find Jacob fleeing from his brother Esau after deceiving his father Isaac and stealing Esau’s blessing as the firstborn. In Genesis 28 we see a divine exchange taking place and through this experience we get to briefly peer into what the eternal realm offers.

First the background. Jacob has been blessed by Isaac and sent away by him for two purposes. To get a wife from among his extended family and to protect him from Esau. When he travels he sleeps with his head on a rock he first night and has a prophetic encounter in a dream. It is interesting to note that at this point Jacob is not yet committed to Yahweh. He makes that clear in his stated vow.

20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, 21 so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God. 22 And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.” Genesis 28:20–22 (NKJV)

While not yet committed to Yahweh Jacob is still walking under the blessing of the covenant that flowed through Abraham and Isaac (28:13). It is in this context that he has his dream. In the dream he sees angels ascending and descending on a ladder between heaven and earth (28:12). Jacob recognizes that this is Bethel, literally ‘house of El/God.’ If we fast forward to John we can glean further insight into Jacob’s experience.

49 Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

50 Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And He said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” John 1:49–51 (NKJV)

Notice how Jesus uses the language of Genesis 28.

12 Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. Genesis 28:12 (NKJV)

As an aside, while Peter is generally credited with first recognizing who Jesus was in Matthew 16 it was actually Nathaniel who first recognized Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God right at the beginning of Jesus earthly ministry. Now, when we move past Jesus resurrection and ascension we see another point being made.

19 Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and having a High Priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:19–22 (NKJV)

If we wonder if we access to heaven, the door is always open. Jesus is the way, Jesus is the ladder upon which angels ascend and descend, bringing help from heaven. I don’t know how everything works in the spiritual realm. I do however know enough to realize that I have access through Jesus and anytime I focus my heart in upon Him I can draw upon His grace and mercy because the door is always open.

I need it. How about you?