Crucified Between Two Thieves

Silhouettes of Three CrossesI was reading devotional material as I was preparing my heart for the Easter Season. A quote by Fulton Oursler slowed my progress as I considered its truth. “We crucify ourselves between two thieves: regret for yesterday and fear of tomorrow.”

After due deliberation, I breathed a sigh of relief. While there are things from the past that I should have done differently, Jesus has lifted the guilt. Trusting in God’s word, I live without deep regret. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, NKJV). Scripture declares “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). How wonderful to experience the incredible message of Easter knowing I have been forgiven and redeemed by the Lord’s sacrifice for me.

I am also free to move into the future without fear. The Lord’s word blesses me with this assurance, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future(Jeremiah 29:11, NIV). I likewise rejoice in the knowledge that Jesus loves me, and, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment” (1 John 4:18, NIV). Because of God’s amazing grace, the torturous thieves of regret and fear have no hold on me.

Dread of the past and trepidation about tomorrow are needless pains we bear. The Christ of Calvary laid down His life for us. “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13, NKJV). What a friend we have in Jesus! I love the words of Joseph M. Scriven’s great hymn:

What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and grief’s to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit, oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer!

~ Brother Roy

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Nirvana

641-08010423For me, the day was another beautiful day in Paradise. I was sitting on Rose’s Cottage porch looking out over Mobile Bay. It was very still as the sun pushed its way above the horizon. I was nearly comatose in the cool, quiet morning air. There wasn’t much action in my ‘brain’. No thoughts of great and noble things I needed to do, no pressing issues of life, no wheels were turning in my head.

I roused to consciousness at the sweet melody of a mockingbird in a nearby magnolia tree. A considerable amount of time had passed since I had lapsed into a kind of nirvana. I know ‘nirvana’ is a concept from Buddhism, but I believe all truth is God’s truth so I don’t mind using it since its origins are in the Lord. A general definition of Nirvana: a place of perfect peace and happiness, like heaven; a transcendent state in which there is neither suffering, desire, nor sense of self.

My own definition is much simpler and mainly arises from Winnie the Pooh in one of his philosophical moments. All was a peace in the Hundred Acre Wood. Pooh said reflectively, “Some times I sit and think, and sometime I just sit.”  On the morning mentioned above, I was just sittin’ in a kind of nirvana when the mockingbirds called me back. I am glad we can go to such a beautiful place with the help of Lord. There are many words of scripture that invite us to that place.

  • “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You” (Isaiah 26:3, NKJV).
  • “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).
  • “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39, NKJV).

Prayer: Lord, thank you for times when we can ‘just sit’ in your presence free from trouble and worry. What a blessing to hear you say, “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”        

~ Brother Roy

Double Yellow Lines

double yellowI was driving on a winding rural road with my wife when a pickup truck roared up behind us. It was ‘jacked up’ and had loud mufflers. The noisy machine rode my bumper for some distance, darting out and back in anxiously wanting to pass. Finally, the driver could restrain himself no longer and passed on double yellow lines. He charged blindly up a hill unable to see if someone was coming over the hill from the opposite direction. Am I ever glad he made it, or I might not be writing this devotional.

As you are aware, double yellow lines indicate a no-passing restriction where crossing the lines is prohibited. It is dangerous, if not deadly, to disregard this clear highway warning. In the spiritual world, God has graciously provided us with a set of double yellow lines to guide our behavior. They are the ten commandments found in Exodus 20:1-19. If we chose to ignore them, we do so to our peril. “A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences” (Proverbs 22:3). The willful violation of these commandments is sin. God’s word informs us, “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4, NKJV).

While driving on a physical high, it behooves us to observe traffic laws. Over 40,000 people in the U.S. die in traffic accidents each year. Some of the rules, if broken, have less serious consequences than others. They may only result in a warning, a ticket, or a fine. But, recklessly disregarding double yellow lines is just plain foolish and could prove fatal.

Like traffic laws, some Biblical instructions, when disregarded, may not be ‘sins unto death’ (1 John 5:7). But, crossing God’s double yellow lines – the ten commandments – invites disaster. In many respects, it is more reckless to ignore God’s double yellow lines than it is to disregard those on physical highways. To do so on this earth’s roadways may prove devastating, but to do so in the spiritual realm can be eternally fatal.

Watch for the Double Yellow Lines!

~ Brother Roy

Trash Talking

trash talkingIf you have even a passing interest in sports, you are aware of the expression ‘trash talking’. The expression has certainly come to prominence in recent years. Athletes have elevated the infamous practice to a verbal art form. Trash talking consists of belittling an opponent and extolling one’s own prowess. It is an attempt to intimidate a rival by words rather than actual physical superiority. This practice may also referred to as talking ‘smack’.

The concept of trash talking is not new. Across human history, people have engaged in this nefarious practice under various names. Two well known Biblical events exemplify this practice.

  • During the time that Nehemiah was leading the Jews to rebuild Jerusalem’s tumbled down walls, his detractors engaged in trash talking him and his effort. In Nehemiah 4, disparagers mocked Nehemiah and called the people weak Jews. With derision, they taunted the people saying that if a little fox jumped up on the wall it would collapse.
  • The account of David and Goliath offers a second look at Biblical trash talkers. Two statements in the account catch my attention. First, “Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel” (1 Samuel 17:8). Next, “On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified” (1 Samuel 17:11). There is no record of Goliath winning a single battle or killing another solider.  He may well have been nothing more than a big, clumsy klutz, a trash-talking big mouth.

Often Satan, the father of lies and trash talk, succeeds in demoralizing and defeating people without much resistance. He is a master of pointing out our weaknesses and reciting our past failures. He points out what appears to be overwhelming circumstances against us. Many people yield without a fight. Like the Israelites, when “Goliath …of Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance … they all fled from him in great fear” (1 Samuel 17:23-24). 

Thankfully, God has not left us powerless to Satan’s attacks. The book of Revelation reveals the three sure-fire weapons God has given us to silence Satan’s threats: “Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death (Revelation 12:10-11). 

In addition, scripture gives us this promise: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (1 Timothy 1:7). We are also told in the Book of James, “Stand against the devil, and the devil will run from you. Come near to God, and God will come near to you” (James 4:7-8, NCV). 

A Final Word: “There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love” (1 John 4:18, MSG).

~ Brother Roy

A Fantasy World

mahoganybayMy wife and I were passengers on the Cruise Ship ‘Fantasy’. We watched as the ship’s captain skillfully piloted the large vessel into a beautiful new port called Mahogany Bay. Because the port and pier area was of recent construction, it looked fresh and clean, unlike many ports of older vintage. Most of the older ports are of industrial grade. Their design was for utility and function and not as cruise ship ‘eye-candy’. The visual attractiveness of Mahogany Bay testifies to the attention given to appearance in this up-to-date port of call.

Once we we disembarked, it was only a short walk along the pier until we were standing at the appealing entrance into the shopping village. The walkway ascended a small hill that was lined with beautiful trees and foliage. The plaza was adorned with sparkling fountains, beautifully painted buildings, and decorated alcoves. There was a sky lift to transport visitors above the trees, across a scenic inlet, and finally depositing passengers on a well-manicured beach (for a $14 fee).  A nature trail also curled around the hill top. It was replete with stunning tropical flowers, an unimaginable variety of trees and bushes, and of course shaded benches where you could stop and drink in the beauty.

The centerpiece of this artificial ‘world’, owned by Carnival Cruise Lines, was naturally the shopping village. The International Diamond Store, the Columbia Emerald Store, the Mayan Jade shop, and any number of other jewelry stores were prominent. Expensive liquor stores and fancy bars that offered drinks with exotic names populated the plaza. There was also a profusion of shops offering T-shirts, souvenirs, and ‘native crafts’. Not so obvious was a buffer zone around the village and security guards to keep ‘undesirable locals’ out of this fantasy world.

So much of this temporal world in which we live, like Mahogany Bay, is artificial. The glitz and glitter that the synthetic world offers are meant to give people the illusion of ‘real’ value. Here and across the broad spectrum of our lives, the hype tries to convince people that happiness is to be found in alcohol, luxury items, expensive jewelry, and trendy clothes. The allure of sex without boundaries often draws the unsuspecting into loveless and shallow relationships, and many follow social media and dating websites that market elusive dreams.

Solomon’s wisdom echoes across the ages: “Why will you set your eyes on that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; They fly away like an eagle toward heaven” (Proverbs 23:5). In addition, please hear these words of Jesus on this matter in the sixth chapter of Matthew:

  • Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…
  • Is not your life more than food and the body more than clothing?
  • But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness all these things shall be added to you. 

Prayer: Lord, today help me to see above and beyond the tinsel of the temporal world. I want to set my affections on things above.

~ Brother Roy

A Voice

megaphoneA crackle of static and an abrasive voice jarred me to consciousness. The sound came from a speaker recessed in the ceiling above me. My mind had been far away with the gentle rocking of the ship, the warm sun, and motion of the waves. The voice sounded again, “Hello, folks this is Ben, your Cruise Director, ‘the Voice from above’.” Ben unleashed a barrage of words trying to get passengers to drink, party, and spend. Passengers were being enticed to indulge in a myriad of self-pleasing activities, all of which seemed calculated to empty passenger’s pockets and line the coffers of the cruise line. We were told to get out there and have fun.

Voices like Ben’s join innumerable other “sirens’ voices” in mankind’s ear. Like the sirens of Greek mythology who enticed sailors to their doom, they try to get us to enjoy the pleasures of self-indulgence for a season without regard for the consequences that come later.

From the beginning of man’s sojourn on the earth, the ‘voices’ have been calling. In Genesis chapter 3 we hear the sirens’ voice at the dawn of creation: “Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die…So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and desirable to make to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate” (Genesis 3:4-6, NKJV).

The consequences of listening to the siren’s voice, which was certainly not from above, was devastating to the sailors in Greek mythology. It was truly so for Eve and Adam. It is still so today for those who listen to those alluring invitations. The ‘true’ voice from above gives us these words, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life” (Galatians 6:7-8, NKJV).

As our days unfold, let us ask the Lord to help us block out the siren’s call of this world. That call beckons us to ignore God’s word and live to please ourselves. We are urged to get out there and enjoy life without counting the cost.

Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice and I know them and they follow Me.”
(John 10:27)

~ Brother Roy

The Half Has Not Been Told

vast ocean

Ezra and Arze, two brothers from deep in the hills of Kentucky, got their first look at the ocean. On the shore, Ezra stood on his tiptoes and shaded his eyes, peering into the distance. He finally said, “Golly, I never had any notion the ocean was so big. It looks like it goes on forever!” His brother replied, “And just think, we are only looking at the top of it.”

It’s the same way when we try to understand the love of God. It is incomprehensible. An account in 1 Kings 10 tells of the powerful and wealthy Queen of Sheba’s visit to Jerusalem. It illustrates the point. She came to see if the stories she had been hearing about Solomon and his kingdom could possibly be true. Upon meeting Solomon and seeing for herself she exclaimed, “However I did not believe the words until I came and saw with my own eyes; and indeed the half was not told me” (1 Kings 10:7, NKJV).

Rev. Benton Vespew Ellis’s hymn “The Love of God” is one of my favorites hymns.  It expresses more clearly than I ever could the overwhelming nature of God’s love for us:

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell
It goes beyond the highest star
And reaches to the lowest hell

Could we with ink the ocean fill
And were the skies of parchment made
Were every stalk on earth a quill
And every man a scribe by trade
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky

At times I feel a little like Ezra and Arze must have felt as they gazed at the ocean. I simply cannot comprehend His great love. But this I know: “… God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, NKJV). The more I experience God’s love, the more I want to say, “The half has not been told.”

~ Brother Roy