Honor Among Thieves

Honor Among Thieves  Leon had carefully prepared for his day. He had several stops planned on his route and wanted to be sure he had the proper look. He chose his new Wrangler jeans, his favorite Carhartt shirt, and his well-worn Red Wing boots. He topped off the look with his black USA flag baseball cap. He couldn’t completely avoid being seen by people today, but he didn’t want to stand out or be particularly memorable. Just an ordinary guy going about his ordinary business. He’d walked through this neighborhood a few times before, so he wouldn’t be an entirely new face, and he counted on that familiarity and his “every man” look to provide a sort of hidden-in-plain-sight kind of cover.

But someone did notice him today. As he walked up the driveway of 149 West Street and around the corner into the backyard, he caught the eye of old lady Brownswick. She lived across the street and she knew her neighbors were visiting Israel on vacation. Their dream vacation – walking where Jesus walked – and their excitement drove them to make sure everyone in the neighborhood knew; but especially Mrs. Brownswick. Because they knew she would keep good watch on their home during their absence. And that she did. So when she saw Leon slip around to the backyard, she immediately called the police.

And as Leon came back out of the house at 149 West Street, he walked almost directly into the arms of waiting police officers, who promptly placed him under arrest. In the normal course of the process, police searched Leon and found several of the ordinary items an adult male might carry, but one item in particular caught the arresting officer’s attention. It was a small piece of paper, folded neatly in Leon’s wallet. The officer unfolded the paper and found, much to his surprise, Leon’s personal code of conduct, a list of five rules he operated by:

  • Never steal from a single mom
  • Never kill anyone
  • Don’t hurt small animals; stay away from large ones
  • Don’t make a mess of people’s homes
  • Don’t feel guilty, insurance companies will pay for what you take

“Oh, here we have an honorable thief,” thought the officer, as he chuckled and starting showing the paper to the other officers on scene. They all had a good laugh and they mocked Leon without mercy as they placed him in the back of the patrol car. Those rules had served Leon quite well over the last three years, ever since he left his job as a jewelry store employee and started his criminal career. He knew how to spot high quality jewelry and stealing it made him far more money than selling it retail, at least until today. And thanks to those rules, he never had to feel guilty about any of it. At least, that’s what he thought at the moment, but that would soon change when he stood before the judge at his sentencing.

In case you’re wondering, Leon is a purely fictional character, made up to illustrate a point – that we are all kind of like Leon to some extent. For do we not all have our own “personal code of conduct” that guides our daily lives? And just as Leon tried to differentiate himself from other, less considerate and more violent criminals, do we not also compare ourselves to others who we feel are worse people than ourselves? Who among us has not thought himself or herself to be “mostly good” or “better than” another human being?

But the truth is, way deep down inside, we each know we have done wrong. So when we compare ourselves to others to feel better, are we not truly just pursuing honor among thieves?

The Bible tells us that “everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” (Romans 3:23) And even though we may not have specifically read God’s law, we demonstrate that it is written in our hearts when our own conscience and thoughts either accuse us or tell us we are doing right (see Romans 2:14-15). None of us would ever claim to another person that we are perfect, so we are being disingenuous if we claim, even to ourselves, that we are without sin. Therefore, we often resort to creating for ourselves a sort of curve upon which we hope God will grade us. “We may not be perfect, but at least we never….(insert name of some specifically horrible sin here).”

But even though our personal sins may be on what we perceive to be the minor end of the scale, a thief only has to steal one little thing to be labeled a thief. A liar only has to tell one small lie to be labeled a liar. And, indeed, the Bible tells us “the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws.” (James 2:10) So we know God doesn’t grade on a scale. He is a perfect, righteous, and loving judge and, as such, he must punish sin where ever it is found just like a just judge must impose a penalty even for a minor crime such as speeding. And if we claim we have no sin, or our sin is not as bad as someone else’s, we are only fooling ourselves, and it only shows that the truth is not in us. (see 1 John 1:8).

But the same holy and just God who must punish sin wherever it is found, loved us so much he paid the penalty on our behalf so that we do not have to suffer the eternal consequence. “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) All we need to do to assure we avail ourselves of this love is to repent and believe. “In fact, it (The Bible) says, the message is very close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart. And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. As the Scriptures tell us, anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” (Romans 10:8-11)

So don’t be like Leon and count on a favorable comparison of yourself to others; rather, trust in God’s Word and the ultimate love he has shown by paying our sentence for us. Make today the day you accept the free gift of salvation through Christ our Lord!

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.

Do I Really Need A Parachute?

Parachute 1  Imagine the scene. You’re on a commercial airliner flying to the destination of your dream vacation. You’ve saved your money for several years to pay for this trip and your excitement level couldn’t be higher. You’re no stranger to flying, but this trip is definitely special. The flight attendant takes you through the usual flight safety warnings and before you know it the plane is up in the air. Only ten hours of flight time and you’ll be there!

Then the captain makes an announcement that catches you by surprise: “Ladies and gentlemen, the flight attendants will be coming through the cabin shortly with a parachute for each of you. Please take the parachute and strap it on your back.” Now if the announcement ends there, you will probably be wondering why they are handing out parachutes. You’ve flown before and this has never happened so you’re probably wondering all kinds of things; maybe even looking out the window to see if there is smoke or fire or anything out of the ordinary.

But what if the captain’s announcement continued this way, “Folks, the parachutes will make your flight more enjoyable, please strap the parachute on, sit back and enjoy your flight.” Now the flight attendant hands you this thing about the size of a small backpack, you strap it on and sit back in your seat. Except you can’t get comfortable. The parachute makes it impossible to sit normally and soon your back is sore and you start to become angry at the airline. What in the world is going on? After not too much time, you take the parachute off and make it known you will not wear this thing.

The parachute most certainly did not make your flight more enjoyable and you now have  backache causing you to feel contempt for the airline, the captain, and the parachute. You will have nothing to do with any of them after this flight. They are already ruining your dream vacation.

But what if the captain’s announcement went this way instead, “Folks, the flight attendant will soon hand each of you a parachute. Please calmly strap your chute on before helping those around you. The plane has developed a serious malfunction and will soon crash to the earth, but you will be guided to a door where your parachute will help you land safely on the ground.” With this additional information, won’t you gladly strap on your parachute and endure whatever discomfort it might bring for the assurance of safety that comes with it? I should think so!

So you see it is only when you have the complete picture of the situation that wearing the parachute makes any sense at all. Likewise, it is the same with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If I were to come to you and say, “Friend, you need to accept Christ,” you would likely wonder to yourself why in the world would you need to do that. My statement simply wouldn’t make sense. And if I said to you, “If you accept Christ it will make your life better,” you might very well give it a try, but eventually something would happen to make you question if your life was truly better, and you might end up turning away from Christ because the promise I gave you was not fulfilled. It is only when we have the complete picture that the Gospel of Jesus Christ makes sense.

So to fully understand the Gospel (which means “good news”) you need to first understand your need for it. Just as understanding that the plane is about to crash made the need for a parachute understandable, knowing that we are sinners helps us understand our need for Jesus. The Bible says, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3:23) and the reality is, deep down inside, we all know we have made mistakes; we all have done things that have hurt others, we are all guilty. In fact, if we are truly honest with ourselves, we have likely felt the weight of that guilt much more often than we care to admit to others. To deny this is to be disingenuous just as the Apostle John wrote, “If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth.” (1 John 1:8)

Perhaps the bigger problem for most of us is that we tend to compare ourselves to others and then, despite our self-knowledge and the guilt we feel, we conclude we’re “not that bad” especially compared to (insert name of notorious sinner). And isn’t that natural? In fact, not only is it human nature, it is the very ploy of the devil to make us think we don’t need God, for Satan is the father of lies just as Jesus says in John 8:44: “He (Satan) has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” And the Apostle Peter warns us, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

So don’t believe the devil. Believe the Bible instead! And the Bible says, “No one is righteous—not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one.” (Romans 3:10-12)  I honestly think the reality is that I don’t need to convince you of your guilt. I believe we all instinctively know the truth about ourselves deep down inside. And, therefore, being knowledgeable of our sin, what we really need to comprehend is that the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). God said about Himself in Exodus 34:6-7: “I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin. But I do not excuse the guilty.”

God does not let the guilty go unpunished. Not the guilt of the worst person you can think of, not my guilt, and not yours. The guilty receive punishment, and that punishment is death. But God, in his infinite love and mercy, made a way for us to escape that punishment and to receive eternal life. And that way is Jesus because Jesus paid the penalty for us. So the Gospel is this: “God so loved the world He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) And just as the impending plane crash is why you need the parachute, sin is why you need the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Availing yourself of the Gospel is almost as easy as strapping on the parachute; just talk to God. Admit to him you have sinned and you need his mercy. Accept the free gift of grace he offers through Jesus Christ; for there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)

And now you know the full story! God bless.

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.