Our Heart’s Most Basic Need

I know the story of man who had been in prison for many years for a crime he did not commit.  As the years passed, someone noted that he did not appear to be bitter about his predicament.  He answered that even though what he was living through was entirely unfair, he knew he was loved; therefore, he could survive.  The love of and belief in his innocence by his wife and children was enough to get him through each day.

I know the story of a child who was abused by her own father.  One day she ended up in the hospital because he had beaten her nearly to death when she fought back against his sexual advances.  Today she runs an organization in her community, set up to help and offer a way out to anyone in an abusive relationship.  When asked how she got through her ordeal with such resolve to help others,  she answered, “I was loved.”  A school teacher was always there for her.  She came to her in the hospital, offered her a place in her own home when she was released, and encouraged her forward in pursuing her education.

I know the story of a man who died on a cross, enduring all the sins of the entire world although He was innocent.  Today He lives on in the hearts of all who will receive Him.  How could He love those who nailed him to a cross?  How can He keep loving today all those who continually speak terribly about Him, mocking His love and His life, rejecting everything about His gift of eternity to be with Him in a world where hate does not exist?  His answer is because He is loved by His Father.  His Father loved Him and the whole world with everyone in it.  Therefore, He, too, can love.  He is the epitome of love.

Love overcomes anything.  Love strengthens the human resolve to press on in the most impossible of circumstances.  Love gives hope where it appears no hope can be found.  Love is never-ending.  Everyone of us needs to be loved and to love another.  Love is the most basic of all our emotional needs.  Without love we would be utterly lost.  There is nothing more valuable to aspire to than to being a vessel of love.

“Be on guard.  Stand firm in the faith.  Be courageous.  Be strong.  And do everything with love.”  I Corinthians 16:13-14

The Merchant’s Story

Somehow I found myself pulled in by the lure of the crowd.  Sheer curiosity as to the number of people watching; nothing more.  I had already seen a man crucified.  It was horrid.  A man stretched out on a cross of rough timbers, his agonizing scream as spikes were driven through his wrists and ankles.  The thud of the cross as it was dropped in a hole to stand firm in the ground.  I had told myself I would never witness another execution, so why was I now at another one?

Perhaps the scandal of it all, the rumor about the man who now hung between two others; that had to be the reason.  I watched and listened to the murmurs of those around me.  Some saw him as a good man who did no wrong.  Others saw him as a magician who performed tricks.  Still others seemed to hate him just because it was popular to do so.  Me? I had no feelings about the man at all.  It would be nothing more than a good story to tell to my customers as I traveled to sell my wares.

My business was good.  Fifty head of camel had I to pack with lavish gifts to take from one city to another.  Once I had even traveled to Egypt selling my goods both there and again upon my return.  I prided myself upon being clever and shrewd.  Some would accuse me of deceit, but I never took advantage of a poor man.  No, only the rich would I dare to make a shekel or two more.  Why not?  It was every man for himself, right?  I did nothing any other man wouldn’t do if given the chance to advance his wealth.

It was then, upon these very thoughts, that I was brought back to the present moment.  I glanced at the man on the cross and he was looking straight at me; yet not really at me, but through me.  I heard myself gasp and felt my legs tremble.  For a moment I thought I might drop to the ground.  I tore my gaze away but something, I don’t know what, drew my sight back to his face.  His eyes held mine and suddenly, unexpectedly I knew I was naked before him.  He could see me as I am, the good and the bad, and all that was hidden.  I was afraid and wanted to run, yet so drawn to him I dare not move.  His eyes changed then; no longer just seeing through me, but now pleading, yearning, not for his own life —  but for mine.

There were no words to explain the moment.  I was exposed.  Frantically I tried to calm my nerves by reminding myself of my own goodness.  I gave to the poor who sat begging by the temple gates.  I took care of my family.  I was faithful to my wife even when other businessmen in their travels were not.  I played with my children.  Yes, I began to feel better because I was a good man overall.  Relieved I looked back at the man.  “Today you will be with me in paradise,” he spoke to another criminal hanging on a cross next to him.  How ridiculous!  My thoughts raged in not a little inner anger.  What does he mean by such nonsense!  They’re not going anywhere but to a tomb!

Amidst my thoughts the man looked at me again.  Blood streamed down his face from the thorns pressed into his scalp and forehead.  A cruel, mocking crown of thorns.  Even so, there was no hatred upon his face.  My eyes locked with his once more and an overwhelming understanding washed over me.  I had never before experienced — what?  What was I feeling?  What was coming over me?

Today you will be with me in paradise.  Those were his words.  Why couldn’t I shake them?  Today.  Where would I be today?  More to the point, where would I be tomorrow?  What was my destiny?  Again I raised my face to look at the man.  I stared.  I desired something more than I had in my life.  What was that I saw in his eyes as he shifted his head ever so slightly to continue looking in my direction?  He could read my thoughts!  I knew it!  Was his heart calling to mine?  Yes!  He was calling!  He wanted to give me more!  Suddenly I wanted more, too!  I nodded my head and smiled in both shame and incredible joy. I know he knew and he was happy.  Among such cruelty shown him, I knew he was thinking about me on that cross.  I knew he was thinking about everyone ever born and who was yet to be.  It was true!  Son of God!  On a cross for me!

Paradise.  That’s what he promised.  That’s what I received. I finally understood that life in paradise had nothing to do with my own goodness, but everything to do with His.  My life has never been the same since that awful but wonderful day.  I heard amazing news of Him just two days later — He had risen from the dead!  I didn’t need to see him with my own eyes.  I already knew in my heart.  I had already received his forgiveness and his promise.  It should have been me on that cross.  He wasn’t the guilty one.   It was me.  It was you.  What sweet relief.  One day — undeserved paradise.

An Old Blue Sewing Box

This past week my mother and I were doing a cleaning out of closets and drawers attempting to do away with those things that are worn out or that we just don’t use anymore.  As I was walking through the den, my eyes glanced at something very familiar on the floor.  It was my mother’s old blue sewing box.

“Mom,” I called out.  “Should we get rid of this old blue sewing box?”

“Absolutely not.” she answered and added, “That’s my special box,  You gave it to me when you were sixteen.  I remember you worked hard babysitting to make enough money to buy it for me.  It’s precious.  I never want to throw it away.”

I was very touched at her reasons for keeping this now frazzled and worn looking sewing box.  In her mind I had given her a precious gift, not because it is of monetary value, but because of what it cost me to give it to her; many hours of working because money was sparse.  I didn’t mind how many hours I had to babysit; I just wanted her to have it out of my love for her.

As I reflected on my mother’s love for this worn out box that no one else would want, a beautiful thought came to me.  When you and I look in the mirror, we may see lines on our faces and hair tinged with silver.  We may have failing eyesight and perhaps a roll or two that we wish would simply disappear.  As the years pass, we increasingly become like the worn out sewing box, but to our heavenly Father we are precious.  He would never throw us out because  we are very valuable to Him.  It cost His Son greatly to make us a part of His family.  Jesus gave His own life to be able to present us to His Father as holy, washed clean by His precious blood,  He did what He had to do on the cross out of deep love for each of us.  He willingly died that we may live forever.

Because of that wonderful unfailing love, one day these worn out bodies of ours will be made completely new!  Until then, we can rest on the promise of II Corinthians 4:16 & 18, “…Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.  So, we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen.  For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.”

We may be like an old sewing box today, but tomorrow promises that we will be made whole; no pain, no tears, no sorrow; only peace and gladness for eternity.  We are indeed pilgrims just passing through this broken world until we reach the next, most glorious one.

Why Is It ‘Good’ Friday?

One wold be forgiven for wondering why today is called good; after all, it commemorates the day that Jesus died.  He was betrayed, flogged, thorns made into a crown were mockingly placed on His head, he was stripped of his clothing and nailed to a cross.  Mockers filed by shouting insults as He hung dying.  Why is this good?

It’s more than good; actually, it’s wonderful!  You see, to die was Jesus’ ultimate purpose.  He knew that the plan of His Father was to offer salvation to the entire world.  Jesus wanted to fulfill that plan.  It was love that compelled Him to die that terrible death.  Jesus knew all along what would happen to Him.  Did He have a choice?  Oh, yes.  He chose you and me.

You see, payment for sin required a perfect sacrifice.  Jesus was the only sacrifice that could be given for our sins.  Jesus, the perfect Son of God, was the only available perfect sacrifice.  He went willingly to the cross.  The Bible tells us in Hebrews 9:22, “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.”  However, it doesn’t end at the cross!  The cross was the door that opened the way to our salvation.  It was the resurrection of Jesus from the dead that cemented the way for eternity.  Since Jesus rose from the dead, we too, will rise from the dead.

Where is Jesus now?  The Bible tells us that He is with His Father in heaven, and that He is right now, “preparing a place for us.”  John 14:2.  When His Father gives the word, Jesus will come again and gather us all unto Himself.  He will take us to heaven to live for eternity in that place that He Himself has prepared for us.  Isn’t that the most wonderful news?  Doesn’t it truly make today a very good Friday and it makes Sunday a glorious day of victory!

Because He conquered death, we conquer death!  Because He lives, we live!  Because He is victorious, we are victorious!  It all began on the cross.  He chose to die because of His immeasurable love.  Doesn’t that love compel us to gladly receive that gift of salvation?  To receive this gift, available to us all, one only has to truly ask forgiveness of their sins and to thank Jesus for dying on that cross.  At that moment, He will come to reside in one’s life, sealing them forever as one of His own.

Yes, this is a wonderful Friday, indeed!  Hallelujah, He died for us, rose from the dead for us, and will come again to take us to live with Him forever!