Friday, February 25, 2011

The Last Words

A short story
By LaJoie Ward
Based on Luke 23

I remember it like it was yesterday, though sometimes I wish I couldn't.

The screams of agony. The rivers of blood. The putrid smell of death coiling around me, making my own torturous gasps for breath only a reminder of how little time I had left.

So this, this was the end-all of my life. This was where adventure and insurrection, being careless, carefree, and independent—living my own way, with my rules—had brought me. Early on, my own screams blended with those of the haggard, torn men to my side. They were hardly recognizable as humans—especially the one in the middle. Now, we all fought to suppress our screams, fighting to save air, taking as few breaths as possible. The simple act of filling my lungs with air now brought me more excruciating pain than I had ever experienced. Tears and blood mingled as I pulled myself up, shooting lightning strikes of unspeakable pain through my body as the tension on my dislocated shoulders increased. A quick gasp, then back to hanging, languishing, waiting to die.

Death seemed a sweet release—freedom, just out of reach. Crucifixions had been known to last for days. How often I had scoffed at the wretched souls who hung outside the city; I never imagined that this would one day be my own fate. I longed for one of the Romans standing guard to drive his sword into my heart and end my misery. The robber—or I should say “the other robber,” for that is my rightful title too—shouted curses and insults at the soldiers who stood guard, taunting, provoking, even begging them to strike him dead. But it was no use. I saved my breath. The guards were preoccupied casting lots over the robe of the one who hung next to me.

He was different. He had been beaten more severely and seemed to be in an even greater state of agony than I was, though I could not imagine it. They had mockingly called him "The King of the Jews” and thrust a crown of thorns onto his head. This man was like no king I had seen. He wasn't even like a governor. Those leaders were all the same: proud, arrogant, cruel. And I . . . I started to black out. Freedom from the pain for just an instant. Yes! I resisted the urge to gasp for breath. limbs began to go numb, and I started to fall . . .

But there was no peace in the blackness. Instead, one by one, thoughts and images that began to fill my head. Things I had stolen, lives I had destroyed, people I had murdered in cold blood. Everything I had done to try to fill the aching void in my soul. Yet nothing had lasted. Nothing had satisfied. Each attempt left me with an even worse feeling of loneliness, emptiness, and despair. Now those feelings flooded my soul all at once, and it was more than I could bear.

I screamed and gasped for breath, expecting to wake up. Opening my eyes, I could no longer see the dismal day. Instead, fury and flames surged toward me from a gaping black hole. I shuddered with fear as I felt the heat. Grotesque flaming creatures slithered toward me from the shadows. I shrieked in horror as they coiled around my bare skin, burning and biting, and whispering doom.Hell? I had never believed it was real. But it became all too clear to me as I inhaled the nauseating smell of my own burning flesh--or maybe my soul--that it was more real than anything in the other world had been. And now, the fires were almost upon me. Millions of tortured voices screamed for mercy. "Help us!" they cried in broken, desperate voices. "If only for a moment, give us respite from the fire!" I was about to become one of them.

"OH GOD!" I cried. “I know I've never had use for you before. My life was a waste. This is what I deserve, but PLEASE! Give me a second chance!" My words drifted off with the smoke. I screamed in utter despair. "NO!!!!!"

In an instant, the flames faded and I snapped back to the land of the living. Back to the nails, the blood, and the torture. But somehow, this torture was better than where I had just been. The splintered wood rubbing my raw, bleeding back was a strange relief, an assurance that I was out of that horrifying pit of fire and damnation, the eternal living death. I struggled for a breath. Through the agony, I was determined that, as impossible as it seemed, I had to survive. I couldn't die, knowing what awaited me. There had to be something I could do.

But what? and how? No one would help me, even if they could. I fully deserved the flames. My guilt was evident. The debt for my wicked, sinful life would be repaid by eternal death. I couldn't do anything to fix it; my life had reached its end. A severe chill ran through my body, causing blood to gush from my wounds. I cried out in agony as I surrendered myself to my inevitable fate. My only choice now was to keep myself alive in this, the lesser of the two horrific existences, as long as I could.

"Savior! Messiah!" a voice called out. Savior? Who was he talking to? If anyone needed a Savior at that moment, I did. I raised my head to see where the voice had come from. A young man, little more than a boy, ran past the guards and flung himself, weeping, at the foot of the center cross. One of the Romans ran after him, took hold of his arm, and dragged him back, still crying out, to where the rest of the crowd stood.

Savior? What had the child meant? Surely he did not still believe that this dying "king of the Jews" would deliver him from Rome!

Then I remembered what they had said about him. His only crime was claiming to be God's Son. Even Pilate had thought he was innocent. Yet what was it he had said, when they nailed his broken body to the cross and raised it? "Father, forgive them, for they . . . do not know . . . what they are doing."

The other criminal and I just screamed and cursed as we were crucified. But he—he forgave them. He was like no human I had ever seen. What man would forgive his own murderer? Could he really ask God to forgive someone's sins? Could he wipe away the misdeeds of a wasted, miserable life?

Could he even save a sinner's soul from hell?

I didn't dare to believe it. And even so, I wasn't worth saving. No one would help me. Not if they knew what I had done. I deserved to burn.

"Savior? Messiah! Hah!" the other criminal mocked. "If you are...the Son of God—save yourself!" He gasped for air. "And save us, too!"

From somewhere inside of me, rage built up at this mockery. "Stop it!" I yelled in as loud a voice as I could muster. "You and I deserve this--and much more! But he . . ." I strained my neck, despite the pain it sent shooting through my arms and back, and looked over at his grief-filled face. Tears of anguish flowed down his lacerated cheeks. "He has done nothing wrong!"

For what seemed like the first time in my life, I felt compassion for someone else. My stony, cold heart melted as I looked over once more, and he met my gaze with his sorrowful—but somehow loving—eyes. I began to weep uncontrollably, almost forgetting my own pain. Somehow, I knew:

This man was the Son of God.

I had to say something to him. I didn’t know what. What does one say to a Son of God? "Jesus," I whispered hoarsely. "When you come into your kingdom . . ." I paused, ridiculing myself for even thinking of making such a request. It was too much to ask, yet, I felt I had to say it. Maybe the last moment of my life could count for something, however insignificant. "Please . . . remember me."

His reply to me, though the weight of the world hung on his torn body, was gentle and sincere: "You . . . will be with me in paradise today."

I vaguely dared to hope. As the sky turned black, and the earth quaked, I became weaker and weaker. But though the pain increased, with each passing minute I felt something that was entirely new to me: peace. Bodily affliction meshed with spiritual exultation. I didn't know exactly what "paradise" meant, but for some reason, I knew I could trust him. His words to me were the only words in my lifetime that ever had significance.

As I watched him die in agony of body and spirit, I looked up to heaven, to a Father I had never known until I saw his Son die. With the last vapors of my breath, I whispered,

"Thank you."

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Survey says...

Hey everyone! I'll be posting a "real" blog post soon, but in the meantime, I want to know what my readers believe about the Bible!

Being that this is a faith-based blog, I have my own prediction as to what the results will be, but I want to hear it from you!

Select your answer on the sidebar and click "VOTE!"

Thanks so much!

PS: If your answer is different from the ones listed, just leave a comment on this post and let me know! :)

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Gift

Hi everyone! For this post, I decided to use an amazing short story written by a friend of mine. I'll be back with my regular posts next time! :)

The Gift

By Ben Lake

A shopper was checking out at a store. While standing at the counter, the clerk handed him a package and said, “This is a gift from our manger. He has paid for it himself. You just need to take the receipt with his signature showing that he paid for it.”

The shopper looked confused. The package read, “Eternal Life”. The shopper shrugged his shoulders and said, “Ok. But, if it is a gift, why do I need a receipt showing that someone else paid for it?”

“Well,” the clerk explained, “the security officer at the door will not let you take this with you unless you show that it has been paid for.”

The shopper thought for a moment. “Never mind, I'll just pay for it myself. It looks like it would be a good thing to have.”

The clerk gave him a funny look. “Okay, you can do that if you want to. I just need proof of your perfection in order to complete the transaction.”

“Perfection?” the man snorted. “You've got to be kidding. I'm a great guy; I'm sure I can provide enough to prove that.”

The clerk shook his head, “Well, unless you can pay with perfection, you cannot take this with you.”

At this, the shopper’s anger began to flare. “I'm doing the best that I can with what I've been given!” he protested.

"Ahh!” exclaimed the clerk. “If you are doing the best that you can, then you must have perfection and, therefore, have nothing to worry about. Please show it to me.”

The shopper was furious. “Why must I show you my perfection? I hate your prices!”

The clerk calmly replied, “How can you be angry and complain about the prices when the manager has already paid for this item and is giving it to you for free? All you need to do is take the receipt before you finish checking out with me!” The man stood there muttering his indignation. The clerk continued “Just remember that once you finish checking out, the receipt that is offered by the manager will no longer be valid.”

The shopper, still sputtering, protested again, “Well, if it has been paid, and the manager has the receipt, why won't the man at the door let me keep the eternal life?”

The clerk said, “You have to acknowledge that it is your receipt. If you don't have a receipt that the eternal life was paid for, then it cannot be considered yours.”

The shopper scoffed “There is nothing in this store that anyone could get for me, that I could not get for myself. I have also been very courteous to the other clients here as well as the employees. I would consider myself loyal enough to the “cause of perfection” by doing good things. So, that should be payment enough.”

“Confidence will not pay for this article that you hold,” the clerk stated. “Perfection is the only payment that will be accepted.”

At that, the man, holding the parcel, turned on his heel and headed for the door. Just as the clerk had predicted, the guard at the door stopped him and would not let him pass. “Is this your eternal life?” he asked.

The shopper responded confidently, “Yes it is.”

“Please show me your receipt,” the guard replied.

The man rolled his eyes, perturbed. “I haven't got one. That annoying clerk wouldn't give it to me.”

“If that’s the case, I cannot allow you to keep it.”

The man was furious. “It is mine!” he said. “I paid for it!”

The guard raised an eyebrow. “Well, if this is true, you can discuss it with the manager. He can go over the books with you and see if you made the payment.”

The man, realizing that this would only prove his guilt, was suddenly very ashamed. He said, “I'm sorry, I couldn't pay for it, I just didn't want the manager to get the credit for buying it for me. He has a receipt that I would like to have now.”

The guard shook his head. “I'm sorry, but any such receipt would no longer be valid. You have already checked out."

The man sat down on a bench, sobbing. As he sat there, he noticed another man at the register. This fellow had been damaging some of the store's items and making other clients unhappy. To the first shopper's amazement, this second shopper was also handed eternal life and was told to take the receipt signed by the manager. Unlike the first shopper, this fellow was dumbfounded at the generosity of the store's manager. He crumpled to the floor in tears. He admitted that he had been a problem to the store and was anything but perfect. He said that there was no way he could possibly deserve what he was being given. This item had more value than anything he had ever seen. He took the receipt and asked the clerk if he could speak to the manager so that he could thank him. The clerk said that it wouldn't be a problem. The manager was always available. The clerk led him to an office. After a while, he re-appeared and went to exit the building. The first shopper watched as the second handed his receipt to the guard. The guard let him pass with no further delay. The second shopper was ecstatic about his new gift, and went around to everyone in the store, joyfully showing them what the manager had done for him.

Friday, February 4, 2011

On My Knees

Why do so few take to their knees to pray anymore? Has the devil really convinced us that it makes no difference? Or are we just too lazy? Is it possible that we could be missing out on something great, merely because we think this simple act of worship has no real power or meaning?

It does make a difference. Yes, our prayers are heard whether we sit, stand, walk, or lie down. But we should not be so deceived as to think that our bodily position has no effect on our spiritual orientation. CS Lewis addresses this subject briefly in The Screwtape Letters. He asserts (through clever reverse psychology) that what the body does, the soul will do as well. They are deeply connected. This is a fact many people completely overlook or fail to realize. Don’t be fooled, it really does matter. Here’s why:

  1. Kneeling before the Lord promotes humility. The act of kneeling before the Savior in total surrender is not a vain act or merely a religious tradition. What the body does, the spirit will likewise do. Don’t believe me? Try it. You will find it easier for your heart to conform to a spirit of humility when your body is already “humbled before the Lord!”
  2. Kneeling before the Lord in prayer centers our thoughts on Christ. When I kneel to pray, I am constantly reminded of my reason for doing so. When I lie in bed, praying silently, I often drift off to sleep. When I walk around or stand, I am easily distracted. But when I kneel, I find the presence of the Lord and am able to focus my thoughts on Him.
  3. Kneeling to pray affirms and exalts Christ as head in our lives. When else do you kneel before anyone? It’s simply no longer done, at least not as an act of reverence. When I literally “offer my body as a living sacrifice,” kneeling before the King of the Universe, I offer to him an expression of worship that is exclusive to him, and say with my body as well as my mind and spirit, “You are my King, you deserve my all, and I worship You alone."
  4. It requires a small, but conscious effort that should represent our willingness to do things for God, things that require effort on our part, simply because He is worthy. David says, “I will not offer to the Lord my God sacrifices that have cost me nothing.” See also Psalm 95:6 “Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker!
I have to admit, I myself was convicted by this. I started writing it probably about a year ago, and have just now returned and read it. I know the truth of it, and yet the same factors that have hindered my prayers so often have also been hindering me from kneeling when I do pray. Here are my reasons; see if any of them sound familiar:
  1. Laziness. I don’t WANT to get out of bed at 5:10 AM and kneel on the floor. It’s cold down there! I can really relate to Peter and the apostles, to whom Jesus said “the spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” I’m a baby about getting out from under my nice warm covers.
  2. Guilt: Sometimes when I haven’t prayed for a while, I keep having this feeling that when I finally do go to the Lord, he’ll be waiting to pound me with this big hammer that says “ah HAH! You haven’t had a REAL discussion with me for…over 12 days. Shame on you!” I KNOW that’s not how God works, but isn’t that how our brains kinda feel sometimes? When I kneel, I hear God more distinctly speaking to me, I think because my own soul is quieted before him. That makes it easier for him to talk to me…and sometimes I’m afraid I won’t like what I hear. Listen (I say this to me, as well!), God wants you—ALL of you. You can’t change what you’ve done in the past, but you can change your future. Don’t let false guilt from all the “shoulda coulda woulda’s” get between you and your Father.
  3. Priorities. I let my priorities get messed up, and instead of giving God the first of my time, he gets the few minutes while I’m lying in bed trying to wake up (but still falling asleep every minute or so), or while I’m falling asleep at night. I don’t give him the BEST of me, which is why I’m too tired to kneel when I come to him. Don’t “serve leftovers to a Holy God” (Francis Chan). That’s why God didn’t accept Cain’s sacrifice. Would you serve leftovers if you had someone famous come to your house? NO! You’d set aside time, and prepare your house and a wonderful meal for them. Do the same (or better) for your God! He deserves your WHOLE heart and devotion.

So what are you still doing on your computer?! No, don’t kick your chair out from under you and kneel while chatting on Facebook. That’s not what I mean. Find somewhere you can be alone, without distractions, and kneel at the feet of your Holy Father who wants so much to wrap you, his child, in a tender embrace.