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“Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ.  No Christian community is more or less than this…”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

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“No man can look with undivided vision at God and at the world of reality so long as God and the world are torn asunder. Try as he may, he can only let his eyes wander distractedly from one to the other. But there is a place at which God and the cosmic reality are reconciled, a place at which God and man have become one. That and that alone is what enables man to set his eyes upon God and the world at the same time. This place does not lie somewhere out beyond reality in the realm of ideas. It lies in the midst of history as a divine miracle. It lies in Jesus Christ, the reconciler of the world.”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), Ethics

Quotable: Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Judging Others

Bonhoeffer2I’ve been reading a lot about judgment/nonjudgment lately.  In my last entry I talked about Hugh Halter’s “Brimstone: The Art and Act of Holy Nonjudgment” (which gets better and better as it goes along), and the latest chapter that I read in Brian McLaren’s “We Make the Road by Walking” also had a bit to do with this issue.

So it’s been on my mind quite a bit of late, because as I’ve said on here before, when I talk to my non-Christian friends, the number one problem they have with Christians is that we’re a judgmental lot that don’t judge our own behavior or practice what we preach.  That’s a pretty damning indictment I think.  Why would people be interested in the grace and love of Jesus Christ if the messengers entrusted with delivering the “good news” don’t follow it themselves?

Well, last night I just happened to run across some writings from Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the same subject in his book “The Cost of Discipleship.”  Chapter 18 in this book deals with Christ’s “Judge not, lest you be judged” teaching in Matthew 7.  The entirety of Bonhoeffer’s writing in this chapter is quotable and I think it’s very solid teaching. Before I quote it though, let’s just mention that what you’re about to read was first written in the 1930s by a man who can’t really be pigeonholed as some “radical liberal.”  So if modern thinkers like McLaren and Halter aren’t your speed, perhaps you might consider what Bonhoeffer has to say:

Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating.  By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled as we are.

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Should Christians Care about Earth Day?

 

Since 1970, April 22 has been dubbed Earth Day, a day of global emphasis and celebration of environmental stewardship. Many Christians participate in Earth Day festivities, but many others aren’t sure how to think Christianly about this issue and whether or not environmental concern is, as it is often portrayed, a “liberal” or “progressive” concern.

Despite how the topic is usually used by the Right and Left sides of our American political spectrum, there is much that confessional, Christian theology speaks to the issue of creation care. In fact, it is only the Christian account of the world and human history that makes a desire to preserve the physical order a rational one.

The New Testament affirms that the meaning of all reality is encoded in something the apostle Paul called “the mystery of Christ” (Eph. 3:4). This mystery is that in Christ there is a “summing up” of everything—not simply the aggregate of all individual souls but “things in the heavens and things on earth” (Eph 1:10) in the Person of the incarnate, crucified, and resurrected Jesus of Nazareth. The order and harmony of the universe are described in the Genesis account of, for instance, the regularity of times and seasons. The order of the physical creation is attributed to and a reflection of the manifold wisdom and goodness of God.

In other words, the physical creation is important because it is part of God’s communication of his attributes and his redemptive plan for the cosmos. Just as our physical bodies serve as temples of the Holy Spirit and are therefore worthy of our care and preservation, so the earth is the permanent dwelling place for the reigning Christ Jesus, and is likewise deserving of care and preservation.

This care and preservation for the creation is not, as some believe, incompatible with the biblical doctrine of dominion. Some Christians and non-Christian environmentalists unfortunately end up agreeing with one another that it’s one or the other; either mankind is in the image of God and therefore in dominion over the earth, or mankind has a responsibility to take care of the planet.

This is a false dilemma. Christian dominion is not, in Carl Henry’s words, “pharaoh-like,” but instead is Christlike. We see a picture of true dominion in the True Man, Jesus Christ, who did not come to serve his own appetites but to serve others. Christ’s example of pouring Himself out for others is a graphic illustration of how true biblical dominion is done for the sake of others. This principle is also made clear in God’s command to cultivate the earth and “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28), communicating that creation care is done for the sake of future generations.

Because human dominion is grounded in the image of God, this dominion reflects God’s dominion, which is not predatory. God, in the biblical narrative, creates the raw materials of the universe, he shapes these materials, and he cultivates and conserves them. God’s dominion is seen not only in his dynamic creative activity, but also in his Sabbath rest, withdrawing from such activity. God commands human cultivation of agriculture, but also specifies rest for the land. Exercising dominion over the created order is not contrary to exercising care over it; on the contrary, only a dominion-capable humanity is capable of caring for the environment at all.

Misguided teaching about “population control” misses this crucial point as well. The rearing of children is, at the most primal level, the same impulse that drives humanity to check a reckless, selfish form of dominion in order to cultivate an other-directed, limited, future-oriented dominion, one that preserves and protects ecosystems and cultures for generations to come. If human beings are God’s appointed means of caring for His earth as the Bible teaches, then what is needed is humanity’s redemption, not elimination. Procreation is pro-creation.

Christian theology is consonant with protection of the earth precisely because Christianity maintains the uniqueness of humanity as image-bearer. Thus, while human beings have dominion over the creation, we have no dominion over one another, or indeed over our createdness itself. What is often called environmental protection is simply the outworking of neighbor-love.

So should Christians care about Earth Day? Yes.

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Guest Post by Thomas R. Schreiner

Most of us have read the story of 21 Egyptian Christians kidnapped in Libya. An ISIS video showed about 12 of them being beheaded, and it is quite certain that all of them were murdered.

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 7.59.17 AMWe Are Not Surprised

Jesus told us to expect persecution, teaching his disciples that unbelievers would hate us just as they hated him (John 15:18-20).

Jesus predicted that some of those who kill us “will think” they are “offering service to God” (John 16:2).

Even though most of us won’t lose our lives for Christ’s sake, we should not be surprised if we do. All of us need to be ready to surrender our lives for Christ. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).

We Are More Than Conquerers

Jesus calls us “to be faithful unto death” to receive “the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).

Jesus also calls us to rejoice when persecuted, for it is a great honor to die for our Lord and Savior, and our reward will far exceed our suffering (Matt. 5:10-12; Acts 5:41). Naturally, we may be frightened and scared at such a prospect, worried that we don’t have the strength to suffer. And we don’t have the strength in ourselves, but God promises to be with us in the fire and the flood (Isa. 43:2), and he promises to give us grace to endure the hardest things. “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Cor. 9:8).

In dying for Christ’s sake, in not loving our “lives even unto death,” we are not losers but winners; we are not overcome by evil. Instead, we are “more than conquerors” (Rom. 8:37; Rev. 12:11). Those who are slain for Christ’s sake come to life and reign with Jesus Christ (Rev. 20:4).

We Grieve with Those Who Grieve

Paul says that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). Still, the matter is not simplistic, and life is not easy. We “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). Paul said that if Epaphroditus had died he would experience “sorrow upon sorrow” (Phil. 2:27). Grief floods the hearts of those left behind.

We Pray for Both Our Enemies and Our Suffering Brothers and Sisters

We need a special grace to pray for the salvation of those who have done such a great evil.

We also pray for our brothers and sisters suffering around the world; we plead that God would grant them his joy and strength and perseverance to endure until the end.

We pray that God would protect them and sustain his church.

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The President at the Prayer Breakfast

Tuesday • February 10, 2015

Vienna_Battle_1683

Presidents of the United States are usually awful as theologians. In far too many cases, the closer they get to anything theological, the bigger the mess they make. President Obama seems rather adept at making such messes, but he is hardly the first. The only President of the United States to be baptized while in office was Dwight D. Eisenhower. In remarks made at the Freedoms Forum at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in 1952, the recently-elected Eisenhower said: In other words, our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.”

Of recent presidents, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were probably the most theologically literate, and both claimed deep roots as Southern Baptists. In his infamous Playboy interview of 1976, Carter cited Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich as influences and Clinton seemed cut from the same theological cloth. Both men have, in their own way, distanced themselves rather clearly from the theological and moral convictions held by Southern Baptists. Ronald Reagan’s evangelical faith seemed to be vague and he rarely attended church services during his eight years in office. George H. W. Bush seemed to be a very conventional mainline Protestant of the old establishment but his son, George W. Bush, may well have been the most clearly evangelical president of the modern age.

President Obama identifies openly with a very liberal version of Christian thinking and reasoning. He cites religious concerns from time to time, but he seems to operate more as a secular cosmopolitan. When he does address religious thoughts openly, as at the National Prayer Breakfast last week, he made a considerable mess.

That he holds to a universalistic understanding of religion is not in doubt. President Obama spoke of faith, of his own “faith journey,” and “professions of faith.” The common denominator in his thinking seems to be faith as an act without any concern for the content or object of that faith. Thus, “part of what I want to touch on today is the degree to which we’ve seen professions of faith used both as an instrument of great good, but also twisted and misused in the name of evil.”

When people do evil in the name of faith, the President asserted, it is because the faith has been perverted or distorted. Any faith can be perverted in this way, Mr. Obama said, and no religion is inherently violent. In his words: “Our job is not to ask that God respond to our notion of truth — our job is to be true to Him, His word, and His commandments.  And we should assume humbly that we’re confused and don’t always know what we’re doing and we’re staggering and stumbling towards Him, and have some humility in that process.  And that means we have to speak up against those who would misuse His name to justify oppression, or violence, or hatred with that fierce certainty.  No God condones terror.  No grievance justifies the taking of innocent lives, or the oppression of those who are weaker or fewer in number.”

The fact remains that Western civilization — and much of the world beyond — is directly threatened by a militant form of Islam that has the allegiance of millions of Muslims. While the vast majority of Muslims in the world are not fighters in a jihad against the West, and for that we must be thankful, the fact remains that the President’s own national security authorities directly disagree with the President when he recently said that “99.9 percent” of Muslims do not back Islamic terrorism.

On Islam, President Obama is not the first to sow confusion on the issue. In the aftermath of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush argued over and over again that America is not at war with Islam. We can understand why a president would say this, and we also need to admit that there is an important element of truth in the statement.

The West is not at war with Islam if that means a war against all Muslims and against all forms of Islam. But, true as that statement may be, we must also be clear that we are facing a great and grave civilizational challenge from millions of Muslims who believe, quite plausibly, that their version of Islam is more faithful to the essence of Islam and the Quran. This understanding of Islam is growing, not receding. It is now drawing thousands of young Muslims from both Europe and North America to join the jihad. We have seen the hopes of a moderating Arab Spring dashed and we have seen the rise of even more brutal and deadly forms of jihad in groups such as the Islamic State. Clearly, there are millions of Muslims who do believe that God condones terror. They celebrate the fact that Muhammad was a warrior, and they understand that it is their responsibility as faithful Muslims to bring the entire world under the rule of Sharia law. Their actions are driven by a theological logic that has roots in the Quran, in the founding of Islam, and in the history of Islamic conquest.

And yet, at virtually every turn, President Obama and his administration remain determined not to mention Islam in any negative light, and even to redefine some acts of terror committed in the name of Islam as “workplace violence.” His refusal to acknowledge the worldview of those who declare themselves to be our enemies is neither intellectually honest nor safe. It is a theological disaster, but it is a foreign policy disaster as well.

In the most controversial portion of his address, President Obama said:

“And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.  In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

President Obama would not mention Islam by name, but he did bring judgment on the Christian past, with specific reference to the Crusades. At that point a good measure of Christian humility and honesty are called for. The centuries of the Crusades were a brutal epoch in which horrible things were done, often in the name of Christ. The union of medieval Catholicism and the power of kings was disastrous, and there are lasting stains on the Christian conscience from this era. The same is true of the era of slavery and Jim Crow laws in the United States.

But honesty is hard to come by when it comes to distant history, and that is why we should be rigorously critical when it comes to the very real and horrifying reality that terrible acts have been perpetrated in the name of Christianity. At the same time, historical honesty and humility demands that we acknowledge that in the age of armed conflict between Christian kingdoms (as they claimed to be) and Muslim armies, even the stoutest secular critics of Christianity must recognize that our current age would be very different if Muslim armies had won, for example, when the forces of the Ottoman Empire were stopped at the gates of Vienna in 1683. All those professors of gender studies and post-colonial literature in European universities might well be professors of the Quran, instead.

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Bonhoeffer for Today: Revisiting Life Together

Life_TogetherMake no mistake about it, but there are a number of similarities between Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s time and our time.  Hate.  Suspicion.  Discord.  In his classic work on Christian community, Life Together, Bonhoeffer writes on what he calls Christian brotherhood.  For Bonhoeffer, Christian brotherhood is not an ideal spawned by human ingenuity.  Rather, it is a divine reality that has been opened up for us in and through Jesus Christ, for all eternity.

With the hate, suspicion, and discord that often come through religion, politics, and issues of race and ethnicity, I offer the following from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together for our consideration.

The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is vital between us.  We have one another only through Christ, but through Christ we do have one another, wholly, and for all eternity.

Though this reality has been created through Christ, we must realize it as Christians.  This will take effort on our part.  Neither can we simply pray for its realization.  We must pursue it in tangible ways.  This why Paul says, “We must make every effort to keep the unity fo the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).

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“Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has.  It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods.  It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake of one will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him. Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.  It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.  It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner.  Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.  Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us.

. . .Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him;  it is grace because Jesus says:  “my yoke is easy and my burden light.”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 45.

Three contrarians with the courage of their convictions

  • Bishop Henry Benajamin Whipple (Newscom/Picture History/Mathew Brady)
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the courtyard of the prison in Berlin-Tegel in 1944 (Newscom/akg-images)
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As Margery Kempe, Henry Benjamin Whipple, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer saw it, silence in the face of evil was just plain wrong. None of them has been declared a saint. But as these three biographies attest, when you’re speaking out against the prevailing culture, you shouldn’t expect honorifics.

ss10102014p12pha.jpgSKIRTING HERESY: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF MARGERY KEMPE
By Elizabeth MacDonald
Published by Franciscan Media, $16.99

Margery Kempe (circa 1373-1438) was willful, inner-directed and self-determined — many would say to a fault. Some called her a scold and a troublemaker. Some in the Roman Catholic hierarchy called her a heretic — a Lollard. (The Lollards, who were prevalent during Kempe’s era, questioned the doctrine of transubstantiation.) Still others considered Kempe a saint.

Elizabeth MacDonald portrays Kempe as a feminist before her time. Writing in a clear, no-nonsense style, MacDonald, a business reporter, weaves medieval history with material from Kempe’s memoir, dictated in approximately 1436. This memoir, The Book of Margery Kempe, is considered the first English autobiography. That it was fashioned by a woman is another first.

Kempe, a Roman Catholic, lived in the town of Bishop’s Lynn and led an unexceptional life until she became gravely ill for eight months after the birth of the first of her 14 children. During this time, she experienced, as MacDonald tells it, visions from the divine as well as the demonic, in which she was commanded to forsake her faith and to commit suicide.

Before she was driven to do either, she claimed she heard the voice of Jesus Christ speaking to her. Thus began the mystical phase of Kempe’s life that continued until her death. Kempe’s mysticism was characterized by frequent visits from and conversations with Jesus, as well as with some of the saints. Kempe also had moments of ecstasy in which she sobbed loudly, while believing herself to be present during the crucifixion.

Kempe lived in an age when religious hypocrisy à la The Canterbury Tales was rampant. Reformers like John Wycliffe questioned the authority of the Roman Catholic church and its teachings regarding indulgences, relics and the Eucharist. They also advocated for an English translation of the Bible.

At this time, women were not allowed to preach the Gospel and couldn’t travel without men. Yet Kempe managed to do both. She made several pilgrimages and traveled to the Holy Land. She chastised her neighbors’ wrongdoings as well as that of town and church leaders. If she saw fault with the actions of mayors, priests and bishops, she let them know about it. She was never one to keep her thoughts to herself, and as seen in this entertaining biography, that was a good thing.

ss10102014p12phb.jpgLINCOLN’S BISHOP: A PRESIDENT, A PRIEST, AND THE FATE OF 300 DAKOTA SIOUX WARRIORS
By Gustav Niebuhr
Published by HarperOne, $26.99

During the Dakota War of 1862, Indian tribes killed 800 or more Minnesota settlers, some of them women and children. How could anyone — let alone the Episcopal bishop of Minnesota — excuse their actions?

The question informs Lincoln’s Bishop, Gustav Niebuhr’s revealing biography of Henry Benjamin Whipple (1822-1901). Niebuhr looks at the massacre and what led up to it, as well as several key players, including Whipple and President Abraham Lincoln. Although Niebuhr’s writing tends to be circuitous and wordy, it paints a convincing portrait of both a man and an era.

The central action concerns the punishment by hanging of more than 300 Indians who were involved in the war and Whipple’s campaign against the mass hanging. When the war, which lasted only a few months, ended, most Americans wanted to punish the Dakotas, even tribal members who had tried to help the white settlers. It was determined that all 300 Indians would be put to death.

As Niebuhr explains it, Whipple didn’t excuse the Indian attacks on white settlers of Minnesota so much as he tried to explain the Indians’ rationale. Whipple, who sympathized with those who were less fortunate, had been trained to observe the golden rule. According to Niebuhr, he had also been influenced by an elderly neighbor raised by an Indian family.

Whipple had come to know individual Indians as human beings and as part of his Episcopal congregation. He argued that the Indians were not bloody savages. They were angry human beings who realized the extent of the injustices committed against them.

Whipple launched a public relations effort on behalf of the Indians, sending numerous petitions and letters to political leaders, including Lincoln. He published articles in newspapers and traveled around the country preaching about the injustice visited on the Indians.

Whipple’s campaign exposed the corruption in the federal government’s Office of Indian Affairs. He showed how the Indians had been swindled out of their land and then were not given the annuities they had been promised. Forced into reservations and with a dwindling supply of food, the Indians were desperate. They were hungry and afraid for their well-being.

Whipple had an independent streak and a strong sense of right and wrong. He argued his point convincingly. And despite the country’s negative feelings toward the Indians, he convinced Lincoln to spare the lives of 275 Dakota Indians. Later, Whipple’s life was threatened by angry whites. Today, Whipple is little known, his actions overshadowed by the Civil War and issues regarding slavery. But at a time when most clerics — Protestants and Roman Catholics — avoided taking sides in anything that seemed political, Whipple was one of the few who stood up for his convictions. And, according to Niebuhr, if that’s not memorable, it should be.

ss10102014p12phc.jpgSTRANGE GLORY: A LIFE OF DIETRICH BONHOEFFER
By Charles Marsh
Published by Knopf, $35

A Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-45) joined the Nazi resistance and spoke up for the Jews when almost no one else — including Roman Catholic bishops — had the courage to do so. Bonhoeffer stood against Nazism and Aryanism while German Protestant churches of the time accepted both as part of their belief system. He also insisted that Christ was the head of Christianity — not Adolf Hitler, as the Nazis claimed.

Beginning with the halcyon days of Bonhoeffer’s youth, Charles Marsh’s scrupulously written biography opens with his undergraduate and graduate studies and the influence of his mentors, including Karl Barth and Reinhold Niebuhr. He covers Bonhoeffer’s postgraduate studies in the United States, where he was deeply affected by Negro spirituals and the plight of minorities, as well as by his work as seminary professor in underground seminaries. Also included is a controversial section on his possibly romantic relationship with Eberhard Bethge.

The biography concludes with Bonhoeffer’s imprisonment and final writings (which Marsh considers his finest), and his ultimate martyrdom that, according to Marsh, wasn’t as painless as is often portrayed.

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by Bryan Fischer   – Guest Columnist

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Bryan FischerRobin Williams’ desperately sad ending arouses our sympathy, as it should. But we must not confuse our sympathy with God’s salvation. There’s only one path to eternal life.


Robin Williams’ suicide, as is every suicide, is a tragically sad thing. My heart hurts to think what Williams’ inner life must have been like at the end to drive him to such a terrible decision. My heart aches for those he has left behind – his wife, his children, loved ones and friends. His death has left a hole in their lives that nothing and no one can fill.

RIP Robin WilliamsIn the wake of his suicide, billboards and media pundits alike have been assuming that Robin Williams is now in heaven, making God laugh along with other funny men who left this earth before their time. So is he?

There is one thing we do know and one thing we do not know that can help us think clearly about Robin Williams’ eternal destiny.

The one thing we do know is that access to the presence of God and life in the age to come is reserved exclusively for those who have placed their eternal trust in Jesus Christ.

Jesus himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). There is nothing remotely ambiguous about that statement. All roads may lead to Rome, but only one leads to eternal life. The only door that leads to life is the narrow gate that Christ himself has opened. As Peter puts it, “[T]here is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Why do some people have difficulty accepting the exclusive nature of ‘only one way’ to heaven? (Select all that apply)
They find it ‘intolerant’They don’t like to think about eternityThey like to think they can get there on their ownThey want to be in controlThey believe ‘a loving God’ would be more inclusive

The world naturally will stiffen their necks when they hear these words and throw epithets at those who verbalize it. But their argument is not with us, it is with Jesus himself. He is the one who said it. We simply agree with him.

Now Williams’ desperately sad ending arouses our sympathy, as it should. But we must not confuse our sympathy with God’s salvation. There is one and one path only to eternal life, and that path has not been altered by so much as one centimeter in 2,000 years. That’s what we know.

The one thing we do not know is whether Robin Williams did business with God in his dying moments. While his mother was a Christian Scientist (a counterfeit form of religion which is neither Christian nor scientific), his father was an Episcopalian – so it is certainly possible that Williams heard the gospel in his formative years and may have remembered it all his life.

The thief on the cross did not place his faith in Christ until he was drawing his final breath. His last words were,“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” In response, Jesus’ last words to him were, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 22:42-43).

It takes but one moment, one whispered, even agonized, prayer, to pass from eternal death to eternal life.

No one but the thief and Christ knew that this transaction had been made. The thief’s wife and children didn’t know, and it’s unlikely that any of the onlookers heard this private exchange. As far as everyone knew, this man died as he lived, a sinful, unrepentant and broken man.

Yet we know better now, and one day we will be where he is, with Jesus in Paradise.  Will we see Robin Williams there? We don’t know. Only two men know the answer to that question.

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