Monday, 27 December 2010

The Door of Opportunity

Rev 3.2 says that Jesus has the key of David; the authority to open and close doors. He then goes on to tell the church at Philedelphia that He has set before them an open door. Paul uses similar language when he speaks to the Corinthian church; 1Cor 16.9 For a great and effective door has been opened to me and there are many adversaries.

I call this the door of opportunity. They rely on a number of unique things coming together. The first is timing. Most opportunities are time sensitive. They are not there forever. At some point a decision must be made. To procrastinate can often mean the opportunity is lost and we are left with a horrible feeling of regret. To quote Shakespeare;

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
(Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3)

It's a powerful metaphor. Ships can only sail with a high tide. To miss the tide is to miss the opportunity. Fortunately for ships tides return. There is another opportunity, albeit on another day. But life doesn't always present us with another chance. Jesus wept over Jerusalem because they had missed the hour of their visitation. The door of opportunity was closing on them. They had missed their time to recieve the Saviour, Luke 19.41-44. (A final opportunity will come at the end of the age, but they must wait for it and be provoked to jelousy by a triumphant church that lives in the fulness of the blessing that naturally belongs to the children of Abraham, Rom 11.11,25-27).

This leads on to another issue. Opportunities need to be discerned. The nation of Israel did not take the opportunity because they did not see it. They were blind to it. Most doors of opportunity need to be spiritually discerned. Simon Cowell is reportedly one of the most famous people alive today. He is known for many achievements; The X Factor; Britain's got Talent; American Idol; as well as being a successful television and record producer. But he is also known as the man who refused to sign up 'The Spice Girls'. A Missed opportunity in a field he is normally good at.

Think of Jesus in John 4. Scripture records that He 'needed to go through Samaria' John 4.4. This route was not the normal road taken by Jews travelling to the Holy City. The antipathy between Jews and Samaritans meant that most Jews avoided this road. Instead they took a longer more circuitous route to avoid any contact with a Samaritan. But Jesus breaks with tradition and taboo and takes the shorter more direct route. This led to His encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. An encounter that led to the salvation of an entire village. An encounter that shocked His disciples and changed the destiny of a community, John 4.39-42.

Notice how Jesus challenges the thinking of His disciples; "Do you not say 'There are still four months and then comes the harvest?', Behold I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest", John 4.35. He is inviting them to 'see' more clearly; to discern what God is up to and to walk through the door of opportunity.

Doors of opportunity also require some risk taking on our part. Think of Jonathan and his armour bearer in 1Sam 14. They were outnumbered by the enemy Philistines; two against an entire garrison. But Jonathan saw a door of opportunity. He knew that the issue was not about numbers. "For nothing restrains the Lord from saving by many or by few", 1Sam 14.6. The real issue was discerning God's favour to breakthrough and defeat the enemy. He asked the Lord for a simple encouragement by the way the Philistines would respond to his challenge. He got the answer he was looking for and these two men defeated their enemies.

It is a great credit to Jonathan's armour bearer that he followed him in this venture. Jonathan saw the opportunity and his armou bearer trusted his judgement. At the end of the day that is what leadership is all about; people trusting your judgement. That's why you need to get it right consistently. It builds trust. It builds confidence. It establishes your leadership track record. Everyone can forgive a few missed calls but they must be few. Then people will willingly follow. We lead out of discernment, not position.

Doors of opportunity sometimes come dressed as a Goliath; big, intimidating, loud and mocking. But faith allows us to go beyond this to see and experience victory. Another feature about doors of opportunity is that they are usually seen and pursued by those who have a pioneer spirit; people who like to push the boundaries; who are not content to live with the status quo but long to see change and advancement. Jonathan was such a man and his armour bearer recognised this and followed him.

I believe that every day the Lord has doors of opportunity for His church to walk through. Doors that need faith on our part. Doors that can only be seen by the discerning eye. Doors that require us to strike while the iron is hot. Doors that pioneers point out to us and we do well to follow their lead. But Paul also said that with this door of opportunity there were also many adversaries. In the Western world the church may not yet experience the persecution that was a regular part of Paul's ministry but there are other adversaries, no less intimidating to pioneers.

The first adversary is the power of unbelief. It is generated through negative confession. Remember Joshua and Caleb who were the only two spy's that brought their confession into line with God's promise to take the land. The other spies brought an 'bad report', Num 13.32 and it discouraged the heart of the people. Unbelief spread like a virus and the whole nation was affected. It robbed the whole nation of the opportunity to posses the land for forty years, Num 13.26-14.10,22-24.

Be careful what you say and what you hear. Words are powerful. They either build or destroy faith and faith is essential if we are to dare to risk going through a door of opportunity. Our western world view has developed a strong scepticism towards the miraculous. We've even written it into some of our theologies. It's called cessationism. It claims that spiritual gifts and miraculous healings should not be expected by the ordinary Christian today. It was there to establish the early church and then passed away with the death of the first apostles.

But God's word is true for all generations. He doesn't change. With the outpouring of the Spirit is the ongoing promise of His gifts and power. It is, after all, described in the book of Hebrews as a 'better' covenant. How can healing and the miraculous be part of the old and part of the early church, but not part of our inheritance today? This view doesn't come from an honest reading of the Bible. It is a theological imposition rooted in rationalism. A world view that has dominated Western thinking for four hundred years.

Postmodernism has created a new opportunity for the church. People are open to new beliefs in a way they weren't thirty years ago. Science and rationalism have not brought the promised benefits and peace people claimed they would. Instead we have suffered two world wars and been left in a spiritual vacuum. What a great opportunity to proclaim the truth; not through argument but meaningful involvement, servant hood, caring and praying.

Currently we have over 250 mothers registered in our soft play program that operates out of our ministry centre called 'The Hub'. Over 100 customers a day use our coffee shop. Our manager is effectively a pastor to the unchurched who come through our doors every day. And now some of them come on Sunday too. It's a door of opportunity. We saw it. We invested in it. Now we are making a difference - little by little. Our door of opportunity has become their door of opportunity. Through it many are finding faith and forgiveness in Jesus.

The other great adversary we face is fear. One of the enemy's greatest tactics to stop us moving forward into the opportunities God is giving us is intimidation. This is what Goliath tried to do with David. His size, his experience his intimidating language put fear into the armies of Israel. Only David rose above this and proclaimed his faith in God to gain victory over the enemy. What the armies saw as a frightening foe David saw as an opportunity for glory. And he was right!

Fear paralyses us. It gets our minds focused on the wrong things. What if....? We imagine scenarios that may never happen but in our minds they become certainties. And that is where the battle must be fought first; in our thinking. Fear always works by getting us to forget about God and His promises. Whenever Jesus turned up on the scene with His disciples His mode of entry was never conventional. Walking on water; appearing in locked rooms; these events all shocked them and so His first words were either; 'Peace to you'; Luke 24.36 or 'Don't be afraid'; Matt 14.27. He helped them shift their focus away from fear.

When our hearts are focused on Jesus and the promises He has made, fear cannot get a grip on us. In Matt 10 Jesus warned His disciples that they were being sent out as sheep amongst wolves. That doesn't sound safe. And it isn't! They would need wisdom - like that of a serpent and hearts that were pure and harmless like Doves. He also reminded them that the worst that could happen in life was being killed, but God had power to destroy body and soul in Gehenna. The fear of the Lord would keep them from the fear of man; Matt 10.16,28.

This is why we see such boldness in the early church. They knew how to walk through doors of opportunity without being intimidated ,either by Rome or the religious leaders of the day. Their hearts were fixed on God and His unfailing promises. Think about all the times in your life where you didn't take a risk to do something your heart told you would advance the Kingdom because of fear. I've been there. I've made that mistake, but I also learned from it. Now I am more determined than ever not to let fear rule when God is opening a door.

I used to teach at an International Bible College. One of my students came from Pakistan. He went back to his country and over a ten year period planted over 60 churches. His ministry regularly touches 20,000 people every day. For years he asked me to go and visit him to see what God had accomplished through him and to minister to the saints there. Now Pakistan is not the safest region to visit. Only two flags have been burned in Pakistan in recent history; the Danish flag (where I lived and worked for eight years) and the British flag (my nationality).

Eventually I said yes. But in my heart I needed to deal with some fear. I remember saying yes to this assignment even if it meant this was the end for me. I came to the place like Paul where he said, "So now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or death", Phil 1.20. It was fruitful time. Three hundred came to Christ in one meeting. I spoke every day in many cities. When I came to Islamabad a man came in with a gun to assassinate me. It was all caught on video, I'm not exaggerating. One of the ushers saw him and tackled the gun from him while I was very unceremoniously thrown into a car a driven out of the city!

I explained to my host that I was still willing to preach. I really had no fear. He politely told me that they may send others to do the job and if they missed they might harm one of his congregation instead of me!! Fair enough. It was probably the right decision. But think of those three hundred souls in that one meeting who would not have heard about Jesus had I not been obedient; had I not overcome my fear. When we stand and face the enemy God releases His blessing - and we grow in faith.

I believe that 2011 is going to be filled with many new doors of opportunity for the church to walk through. As we do we will advance the Kingdom of God. Watch your language. Make sure it builds faith. Check your heart. Make sure it is trusting God and not giving in to fear. Be awake and discerning to the opportunities that are before you; opportunities to serve; to bless; to give; to lead and to speak about Jesus. Every door of opportunity opens up into something new and unexpected. See it as an adventure and dare to go through. Who knows what you will find, accomplish or enable to make happen through that simple step of faith.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Open and Closed Doors

These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open, Rev 3.7

In His letter to the church at Philadelphia Jesus presents Himself as the one who holds the Key of David. Whatever else this means, it conveys the idea that He has Kingly authority to open and close doors. This is a powerful metaphor. We all know what a door is. It is the place where we enter or exit a building or room. To those who have the key, entrance is easy; to those who don't, the room or building remains off limits to them.

Scripture uses the door as a place where many things were transacted. It was at the gates (doors) of a city that the elders would meet to make important decisions, Ruth 4.11. Likewise the threshold of a doorway held great significance. Jesus reminded the church in Laodicia that He was on the wrong side of the door. They had pushed Him out and He wanted to come back in, Rev 3.20.

Doors don't just keep things in, they help to keep things out. In that sense they are a door of protection. We see this in Ex 12 when the Israelites were instructed by Moses to take a lamb less than a year old that had no blemish and to kill it. The blood from this lamb then needed to be applied to the lintel and doorposts of each home. Only by doing this could the firstborn from each family be protected from the angel of death.

God's instructions were clear; "And when I see the blood, I will pass over you", Ex 12.13. In other words through their faith and obedience, the life of that innocent lamb counted in place of the eldest born son. Think of the shock and impact this would have on each family. The lamb was taken in on the 10th day of the month. This marked the beginning of months for the Israelites. A new beginning; a new birth. The lamb was kept 'til the 14th of the same month, five days.

On the first day it would have been seen by all the children as a cute pet. By day two it would have been named. By day three the children would have argued who should feed it. By day four it was now part of the family. Then on day five the father in each home had to take the lamb and kill it. Imagine the horror on the faces of all the small children. Imagine the protest; "Why must it die?" And then the father must explain that an angel of death will pass through the land that night and if there is no sign of blood on the door then their oldest brother would die.

How powerful this picture is. It points forward to Jesus whom John declared to be, "The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world", John 1.49. Like the lamb in the Exodus story Jesus was spotless, innocent and pure. Nothing about His life deserved the death penalty. Yet He willingly gave Himself as a sin offering to save those would trust in Him. For when we believe in Jesus, it's as if we too put the blood on the door posts and lintel of our life. Judgement passes from us and is taken by Jesus. We are safe behind the door, John 10.7.

Unlike the lamb in the Exodus story Jesus is a willing victim. Love compelled Him. He surrendered His life in order to give us the opportunity to begin again. It's a compelling story. For all those safe inside the homes, with the blood visible from outside they were protected. The door became a door of security, a door of protection. Death could not cross that threshold. It held no power over those within.

This is why the NT takes such a different view on the death of a believer to that of a non-believer. For the believer is said to have passed from death to life; taken out of the kingdom of darkness and placed in the kingdom of God's dear son, Col 1.13 and sealed with the Spirit untill the day of redemption, Eph 1.13. There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, Rom 8.1. Judgement has passed over. They are protected.

So the NT language for a believers death is 'falling asleep, John 11.7, 1Thess 4.16. Woody Allen once said; "I don't mind dying, I just don't want to be there when it happens". Clever. Funny! But none of us can escape 'being there'. However for the believer, death is like falling asleep. For when we die we go to be with the Lord, 2 Cor 5.8; Phil 1.23. And we are with Him till the resurrection!

This sense of protection was emphasised by Jesus when He sent out His disciples to preach in Matt 10. They were sent out as 'Sheep among wolves', Matt 10.16. In other words they were walking into hostile environments. So Jesus encourages them, "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna", Matt 10.28. Finally He reminds them that even the hairs on their head are numbered by the Father in heaven, Matt 10.30. They are watched over, they are protected, they are valued, Matt 10.31.

I find this inspiring. I think this truth lies behind the great boldness that the early church demonstrated in its witness. Jesus had removed the sting of death - sin, 1Cor 15.55-56. So they did not live in fear of having to pay the ultimate price for their faith. To use Paul's language; "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain", Phil 1.21. They really did see it as a gain, not a loss. So when brothers or sister died they did not mourn in quite the same way. There was a natural grieving process to go through, but there was also a sense of joy, even victory.

This protection extended to God watching over the health of the Israelite nation, provided they learned to walk in His ways and obey His commands, Ex 15.26. They were in covenant relationship with Him and so their deliverance included the promise of health and healing. The Levitical laws prescribed the kind of food to eat, how to prepare it and sanitation rules that ensured good health for the nation. Add to this the rhythm of Sabbath rest and Holy days of celebration, we see a nation that was given a prescription for life that would ensure good health. It was a holistic approach.

Much of our treatment of sickness today focuses on symptoms. The Biblical approach always goes to the root of the problem. So in the scriptures healing begins with dealing with the human heart. For out of the heart proceed all the things that lead us into sinful practices. It is this exchange of heart that the new birth promises. With a new heart comes the possibility of re-ordering our lives so that healing can flow into every area; including our relationships.

Another important door I want to look at is the door of promise. In Gen 18 we have the account of God meeting with Abraham to confirm His promise of a son. Only this time the meeting is to tell Abraham very specifically when it will happen. Interestingly the meeting takes place at the door of Abraham's tent. He is on the outside eating and talking with the Lord, while Sarah remains the other side of the tent door, but within earshot of all that is being said.

Now when she hears the Lord renew His promise to Abraham of a son she laughs; not out loud so she can heard, but within herself, Gen 18.12. It's a mocking laugh. It's a laugh of unbelief. But God heard it. And His response was simply to ask a question; "Is anything to hard for the Lord?" How is it we can believe in a God that has created such a vast universe with the power of His word, but we find it difficult to believe He can intervene in our world; our situation; our need?

Rom 4.19-20 tells us that when Abraham heard this promise he was strong in faith. I find it significant that Abraham was one side of the door and his wife was on the other. One side was faith, the other was unbelief. It was the same Lord speaking at the same time to the same couple. But the response of the heart was different for each of them. We could say she was on the wrong side of the door. For the door here represented an entrance into the promise. It simply required faith.

What promises has God given you that you have almost given up on? Which side of the door of promise are you? Do you want to stay there? Jesus challenged Thomas not to be faithless but believing. Is anything too hard for the Lord? Can He do what He has promised? Human weakness and frailty does not limit the power of God; only unbelief. Remember it was a burning bush that housed the fire of God, but it did not feed the flame; it housed the flame.

This is why Paul could say "We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.", 2Cor 4.7 NIV Through our weakness God's strength can shine. This ensures that He alone gets the glory. Faith does not look to human ability before it embraces God's promise, rather it embraces God's promise, even in weakness and boasts in God's power to do what He says.

Finally consider the door of provision. In Luke 11.5-8 Jesus tells us the parable of the man who comes to a friend at midnight seeking for bread to give to a late visitor. He is teaching about prayer that releases God's provision. Jesus goes on to tell His disciples to ask, seek and knock. Some doors appear closed, but when we ask the Father in heaven He can open them to us. The point of the parable is that God is eager and willing and we can trust in His nature. When we ask for something good we won't get something bad instead! He knows how to give good things to His children, Luke 11.11-13.

Doors of provision require us to knock on them. They will open to us, but not without some perseverance on our part first. God had provision for Israel in the wilderness; but they had to ask for it. Most of the time they complained before they knocked on God's door. Somehow they believed He had brought them there to kill them, Ex 16.3. That's crazy thinking in the light of all He had done for them. The Bible calls this kind of crazy thinking unbelief.

The teaching of Jesus in Luke 11 clearly shows that this provision of 'good things' even extends to receiving the Holy Spirit; Luke 11.13; Matt 7.11;. God has all that we need and can supply it when we need it; if we ask! I remember in the eighties some of the controversies surrounding the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. People warned me that I might receive a demonic tongue if I opened up in this way. How contrary to the words of Jesus in this parable this is. Our Father in heaven is bigger and better than that.

25 years ago I distinctly remember beginning to knock on the door of provision for spiritual gifts. Over the next two years I came into contact with leaders who helped me experience more of the dynamic of the Spirit. The person who probably had the biggest impact on my life in this area was John Wimber. He had what I call a relaxed spirituality. It lacked pentecostal hype. It was down to earth. I could connect with the way he used spiritual gifts and knocking on that door opened up a new level of faith and ministry to me.

What area of your life do you feel some lack? Where do you need God to close a door so you can know His protection? Is there a promise that awaits you to move to a different side of the door? Or perhaps you need Him to open a door of provision for you? Asking and knocking are expressions of faith. They position us to walk through doors into new places of freedom, blessing and protection. And if you knock you have the promise of God's word - the door will be opened.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Engraved on the Palms of His Hands

Isaiah 49.13-14 says:

Sing O heavens!
Be joyful O earth!
And break out in singing O mountains!
For the Lord has comforted His people
And will have mercy on His afflicted.

But Zion said,
"The Lord has forsaken me,
And my Lord has forgotten me"

What a contrast! God is encouraging praise in the earth because of His commitment to have mercy and comfort His people, but they aren't having any of it. They see it differently. "God has forsaken me. He has forgotten me. I'm abandoned".

Have you ever felt like that? Forsaken! Forgotten! Abandoned! What's wrong with this picture? How is that the people of God could be so far from recognising how God truly felt and how committed He is to their well being?

In the following verses we have a clue. Isaiah 49 15-16 says:

Can a women forget her nursing child,
And not have compassion on the son of her womb?
Surely they may forget,
Yet I will not forget you.
See I have engraved you on the palms of My hands;
Your walls are continually before Me.

When the Israelites were taken captive many of them made a print of the walls of Jerusalem. They then had this tattooed on the palm of the hand. It reminded them of their heritage, of what they had lost, of where they hoped to return; one day. God uses this as a powerful metaphor to demonstrate to Israel His love and commitment to them as His people. He is a God of covenant and remains committed to them, despite their failures.

This picture points to the New Testament where Jesus bears in His resurrected body the marks that secured our forgiveness. They are a permanent sign to Him and us that we are loved. They are there to inspire faith in us. Jesus invited Thomas to place his fingers in His nail pierced hands and put his hand into the side of Jesus with the comment; "Do not be unbelieving but believing", John 20.27.

Isn't it remarkable that we will have perfect bodies in the resurrection but His body will bear a permanent reminder to us of the cost of redemption. We will never forget His deep love for us. But what now? How do we handle the trials of life? What inward posture should we adopt that will help to see us through?

I want to show you how some Biblical characters handled life to inspire you in your journey. Let's begin with Sampson. This is a man with great strength physically. From birth he was called to be a Nazarite. No razor came upon his head and his great strength lay in his long hair. But this man also had a weakness, beautiful women. He wasn't very discerning about the kind of women he got involved with.

The story of Sampson and Delilah is probably one of the best known in the Bible. Through her continual requests to know the secret of his strength he finally gave in. The Bible says he told her all that was in his heart. What amazes me is that on the first three times that he lied about where his strength lay she had the Philistines lying in wait to attack him. How can you be that stupid? He doesn't seem to connect that she is behind the whole thing. This is a woman who is out to exploit him for money and he is besotted with her. The first blindness that came to him was one of good judgement.

Having told her where his strength lies, she shaves his head while he is asleep and he is taken by the Philistines and they blind him. The sad part is that he didn't even recognise that his strength had gone. Having been taken captive by them they then mocked and humiliated him. He was used to entertain them. Imagine how he felt; betrayed, humiliated, alone, forsaken, forgotten.

But the Bible makes a small statement that is easy to miss. His hair began to grow back again. This speaks to me. It speaks of the power of redemption, the power of forgiveness, the power of the cross. Hair can be cut, but if the roots remain it will grow back again. Roots are what sustain growth in hair, in trees and plants. They are hidden beneath the surface, but they are what really counts.

So despite his great failings in life Sampson believed he could be strong again. Having lost his sight, he regained his vision. The lust of the eyes was what got him into this mess. Now he could see more clearly. His spiritual vision sharpened. Given all he had done wrong he prayed an outrageous prayer. It was full of faith. Sampson relied on one fact; God knew Him, God had called Him and God could be relied on even now to help. Here's his prayer in Judges 16.28:

"O Lord God, remember me, I pray! Strengthen me just this once, O God, that I may, with one blow take vengeance on the Philistines for my two eyes!"

Remember me. And for those who are engraved on the palms of His hands, He cannot forget. Despite our weaknesses and failures, God is faithful. God's power and grace are never limited by human failure and sin. Where sin abounds, grace does much more abound, Rom 5.20.

Imagine what was going on in Sampson. They mocked and humiliated him. They used him to entertain them. He had to 'perform' for them, Judges 17.25. Not only that, they gave honour to their god Dagon declaring, "Our god has delivered into our hands Sampson our enemy!" Judges 17.23-24. But Sampson believed God was bigger and he dared to ask for strength. 'Remember me'. And God did.

The sacred text records that Sampson killed more in his death than he did in his life. 20 years of fighting the enemy and his greatest victory is at the end. God remembered. Think of what would have happened if he had just given up; if had resigned himself to a life of constant humiliation and mockery by the enemy; if he had said to himself; "I've blown it, now God can't use me".

What failure in life haunts you? What part of your history does the enemy use to mock you? How long will you 'perform' for the enemy before you dare to ask God for strength. God did not answer Sampson's prayer because he deserved it. He answered it because of His grace. He remembered this man and Sampson ended his life a hero.

Notice that Sampson did not look for an easy way out. He knows it will cost him his life. Listen to his last words in Judges 16.30, "Let me die with the Philistines!" Yet his final resting place is in Israel, in his father's tomb. Through sin his life was cut short but through God's gracious remembrance he defeated the enemy, silenced their mocking and showed that their god was no god at all. No wonder Heb 11.32 cites him as a man of faith.

Let's turn to Hannah; a women in deep distress because she is childless. Not only that, there is another wife who mocks her and a husband who does not understand her pain, "Am I not better to you than ten sons?" Doesn't that sound a tad egocentric? Not put off, she goes to God in prayer. The heart of it is, "Remember me", 1Sam 1.11. She is ready to act, but she needs God to act first. And He does. He remembers Hannah. He answers her prayer. She gets a son and God gets a young man dedicated to Him. Win win.

Unlike Sampson, Hannah had done nothing wrong. She was a godly woman; a prayerful woman; a righteous woman. In her pain and distress of wanting a son she came to a realisation. Maybe God wanted something too. She may not have known how bad Eli's sons were or God's plan to judge his house, but she intuitively felt that God needed her to surrender this child back to Him. So she promised to give him in service to God. It was another amazing act of faith. In the end she was blessed with three more sons and two daughters, 1Sam 2.21. God is no mans debtor.

What need is there in your life that you feel desperate about? Are you praying to have that need met? Maybe, like Hannah, you need to ask with a view to giving it back to God. The problem so often with what we receive is that it becomes 'ours'. And our possessions can eventually possess us. Hannah's prayer included a promise to give back to God what He gave. This released God's provision for her. In her pain; in her need; in her frustration, she discerned something of the purpose of God and He remembered her.

Finally think of the Thief on the Cross in Luke 23.42. We know nothing of his background. Was he a good man who went bad? Was he someone who hit on hard times? Was he simply a bad person all his life? We don't know. What we do know is that when the other thief began to berate Jesus, this man spoke up. His conscience was sensitive to the fact that Jesus had done nothing to deserve death. He knew Jesus was righteous. Not only that, he knew that he and the other thief both deserved their punishment. They were indeed guilty.

While defending Jesus and admitting his own guilt he dares to say something to Jesus as they both hang there - soon to die, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom". Jesus answer shows it's never too late. Dying prayers can still change destinies when the grace of God is at work. Sampson, Hannah, the thief with no name. All of them with a deep need. All of them in anguish. All of them prayed. All of them asked, 'Remember me'. All of them received an answer.

Each one of these Biblical characters teaches us something. No matter where we are coming from in life, God is ready to act on behalf of those whose hearts turn towards Him. He remembers, for we are engraved on the palms of His hands. Remember that next time you are tempted to give up. It isn't over 'til it all over. Faith has the capacity to write an epilogue, just when you think the story is finished.

If God is telling us to break out into singing, perhaps, despite our perspective, He knows something we have yet to learn. He is truly, madly and deeply committed to us as His people. And Jesus bears in His hands the proof of that love. How can He ever truly forget?