Another Thief on the Cross

Stratford Upon Avon ( by My Ticklefeet

I’d just finished a month-long gig, teaching acting in London and Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace, and had said goodbye to the last of my students. It had been a heady time, suffused with history. I had tickets for The Merchant of Venice, which was wonderful, but didn’t have a place to stay–every room in Bardland was booked.

So after the show, as the crowd ebbed away, I asked the eminently efficient theatre manager Ray if he had any suggestions. He gave me several numbers and I rang them all: “Sorry, no.” “Sorry, no.” “Sorry, no.”

“Come on, then,” said Ray as he locked the lobby. I didn’t know till later that “Come on, then” meant I’d be staying in his spare room — and not just any room, but a half-timbered room in a 400 year old Tudor house overlooking the Avon River! “Thank you, God,” I whispered. “All this history. I’m just sorry my purpose here has ended!”

It hadn’t.

Ray and I caught on like a thatched roof afire, talking until late and all the next day, and the day after that. We talked Shakespeare, of course, and history, and where to find the best fish and chips. But before long, God, the object of my deepest affections, came up.

Ray had never heard faith described in personal terms. He’d grown up in the Church of England and had rejected it, but over the last year had begun to reconsider “religion.” We were talking apples and oranges, my apples being a relationship with God, Ray’s oranges being strict adherence to rituals and ordinances in order to secure a berth in Heaven.

“But what about the thief on the cross?” I asked. “He didn’t have time to make up for what he’d done wrong. He threw himself on Jesus’s mercy. And Jesus said, ‘Today you’ll be with me in Paradise.’” (Luke 23:43)

“Jesus didn’t say ‘Heaven,’” Ray averred, “He said, ‘Paradise.’ The thief wasn’t saved.”

“Wait–you mean Jesus was telling him, ‘You’re going to spend eternity in Hell, but, hey, we’ll do lunch together on the way there’? That’s not mercy. That’s sadism!”

“But it’s not fair!” Ray protested. “I have to be religious while the thief gets to do what he wants and go to Heaven anyway?”

“No!” I said. “I mean, yes, the thief was saved, but he missed out on a lifetime of knowing his Creator! When you know God, really know him, you want what he wants, and he changes you!”

“But, religion—” Ray protested.

“Forget ‘religion,’ Ray! God wants you! Let him love you!”

It turned out Ray had been studying “the law of the gospel” with Mormon elders, and had been squirming on that cross for a year! (I know and love a lot of Mormons, some of whom are family members, but I do not love their religion.)

“Look, why don’t you put ‘religion’ on hold for a while, Ray,” I gently urged, “and try God?”

After a long time, he whispered, “Maybe I will.”

We said goodbye the next day. I gave him my dog-eared Bible, full of personal notes about my spiritual journey.” We hugged. And cried. A lot.

My time in Stratford was infused with history, both temporal and eternal. And even though I never saw Ray again, he has a permanent place in my heart. I’m looking forward to seeing him…

In Paradise. 

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in For Pastors and Teachers, Memoir, Quips and Quotes, Religion/Faith and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

59 Responses to Another Thief on the Cross

  1. Grant at Tame Your Book! says:

    Profound, yet warm and inviting. Excellent sharing, Mitch! Thanks for the inspiration.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. What you did with Ray was genuine evangelism, Mitch. Sharing the Good News by sharing yourself. Introducing him to God rather than introducing him to a church. Letting him know that God loved him and showing him a glimpse of that love with your own warmth and affection. If more people would understand and embrace that kind of evangelism, our churches would be full with genuine mutual love and companionship, and the world would be a better place.

    Liked by 6 people

  3. What a beautiful and well-told story, Mitch. It sounds like the soil of Ray’s heart has been prepared and softened. What a gift you have given him in sharing the Gospel via your personal testimony and then leaving behind your Bible — I’m praying Ray will explore his new Bible (complete with his friend’s commentary) and that the Spirit will draw him to faith in Christ.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Oh, my goodness! My dad had this exact same conversation with me when I was in one of my many questioning phases.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Love this unexpected meeting with a fellow traveler through this journey we call life. Love, too, your wise words to Ray: “Forget ‘religion,’ Ray! God wants you! Let him love you!” We humans get so caught up in ‘religion’ that we forget the life-giving force behind all religions.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. marthadilo3 says:

    Yes, yes. It’s not a punishment to live in God’s love.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Bruce Cooper says:

    Well done, Mitch! You just never know, do you? I had a situation like that in Cyprus, when I was serving there with the UN Peacekeeping Forces. I was in the military HQ on the Turkish side of Nicosia and one of the Turkish Officers asked me a lot about God and Jesus. My bible was on my desk. We talked on and off for a couple of weeks. I sent away for a good sized Bible in the Turkish language and it arrived just before I left. I gave it to him and asked only that he read through it three times. He said he would. You can’t buy a Turkish Bible on the Turkish side of Nicosia. Heaven only knows what that Turkish Bible accomplished. I’m hoping too! Blessings!

    Liked by 6 people

  8. Love, love, love this –and I’ll be praying for your new found friend. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. joannie6535 says:

    Great blog. No coincidence that there was no room in the inns. You were right where you were ‘sposed to be. Amen!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Debi Walter says:

    I love this and the way you represented Christ so we’ll to Ray. I can’t wait to hear him share his story in Paradise. 🥰

    Liked by 1 person

  11. God just has a way of throwing us into the paths of those who need to hear our stories, doesn’t He?

    Liked by 2 people

  12. braypa says:

    The genuine sharing of ones faith is far more powerful than any man’s (or woman’s) religion
    Blessings, Perry 🙏

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Lisa Beth says:

    Thank you for posting this great story Mitch, may Ray always remember those moments of truth, arranged for him by heaven.
    Stay cool brother. 😎

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Considering religious people crucified Jesus, it’s frustrating that so many people associate Him with “religion.” Praying for those seeds to grow and for you to see Ray again in heaven, where you’ll thank God for “no vacancies.” 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  15. jmfayle says:

    You’ve gotten to do a lot of interesting things and meet lots of different people in your life, Mitch. I hope your friend makes his choice a ‘yes’ to Jesus too.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Tim Harlow says:

    Mitch, what a wonderful heart warming story. I have a lot of appreciation your post. I live in Utah, deep in the heart of “Mormon land”. I am not Mormon. I am not even very religious, but I loved your advice for Ray. Thanks for sharing this wonderful story.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. kerbey says:

    What a great story and memory for you. I spent last month helping tend to my stepfather who was dying of cancer. Though he had spent 40 years with my mother as an amazing example of generosity and kindness in Christianity, he never believed. It wasn’t until 5 days before he wasted away into a skeleton, that he accepted Christ. He was only lucid for a couple more days but he grabbed my hands and asked me to pray for him and said he had been asking to hear from God. 65 years on this Earth and only 5 days saved, and now he is in heaven forever.

    Liked by 3 people

  18. Pingback: Another Thief on the Cross — Mitch Teemley – A Blog About Healing From PTSD

  19. byngnigel says:

    I believe putting “religion” on hold is the key.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Maybe Karl Marx was somewhat right when he said, “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” Religion can get in the way of knowing God. Religion has caused so many problems in the history of this tiny little world in which we live.I’ll take God any day versus a lot of overbearing religious dogma.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Heartwarming, Mitch. I believe you will see Ray in Paradise.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Yes, religion has so much judgement. Sometimes we forget we can live with one step in paradise in the here and now, if we accept his love for us and walk with him everyday! Life gets so exciting a sweet!

    Liked by 1 person

  23. I hope you get many more opportunities like this one–to experience history–and to speak Gospel truth. God bless, Mitch!

    Liked by 1 person

  24. I like how you expressed that.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Everything starts with a story. Or it should. And you’re a great story teller, Mitch. Newbie bloggers, in the live story niche, ought to be required to read 13 of your posts like this one before they can post something themselves. Why 13? I don’t know. A baker’s dozen just popped into my head.
    I hope the seeds you planted with Ray fell on fertile ground. Thanks for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Many believers find it easier to share the Word and help the needy through their church. Maryknoll, a Catholic non-profit program, have missionaries who give witness to God and aide the poor and the sick in more than 20 foreign countries. St Vincent de Paul is another Catholic organization that uses volunteers to help the poor with what they need, including friendship and prayers. But, we should all give witness to God wherever we are, and whether or not we’re with a church, just as you have done. Kudos to you, Mitch, for sharing your strong faith and letting readers know how you did it!

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Beverley says:

    Wonderful story and powerful testimony. I love how you emphasize relationship with God and encourage Ray to forget about religion. I believe religion has a lot of people in bondage.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. That’s a great story, Mitch.

    Liked by 1 person

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