Summary: The Ashley Smith story illustrates the power of a purpose driven life. It can be ours too.

Living with Purpose

Romans 8:28; 29-39

Dr. Roger W. Thomas, Preaching Minister

First Christian Church, Vandalia, MO

Introduction: Ashley Smith never suspected that she would ever have to spend a night like that! Not in her worst nightmare! How do you prepare for being assaulted by an escaped murderer, threatened with a loaded gun, and held hostage in your own home for hours? You can¡¦t! Or can you!

At first the police wondered if Brian Nichols ended up at Ashley¡¦s house because he knew her. They even thought she might be an accomplice. She wasn¡¦t. The two had never met before. Then it must have been an accident or mere coincidence that brought together the twenty-six year old single mom and the subject of Georgia¡¦s biggest manhunt. That¡¦s what most everybody concluded. Not Ashley. She¡¦s convinced this was no coincidence. It was providence. She says it was part of God¡¦s purpose for her life. You have probably heard about Ashley¡¦s story. Just in case you haven¡¦t heard the best part, let me tell you the rest.

Ashley had just moved into her Duluth, Georgia apartment two days before. Duluth is a suburb just northeast of Atlanta. On Friday night (March 11, 2005), she stayed up late to finish unpacking. About 2 a.m. she made a trip to a nearby convenience store. As she returned, a man stepped out of a parked truck and shoved a gun into her side.

"Do you know who I am?" he asked. She didn¡¦t. He was wearing a ski parka and a ball cap. He removed the cap, showing his shaved head. She recognized Brian Nichols. His face had been all over the television news since he had overpowered a guard at the Fulton County Courthouse that morning. In his escape, he had shot and killed a judge, a court reporter, and a deputy. At the time, Ashley didn¡¦t know that he had also killed one other man and beaten two more.

Nichols forced Ashley into the apartment. He drug her to the bathroom and placed her in the tub. He kept the gun on her. ¡§I am not going to hurt you,¡¨ he said. She didn¡¦t believe him. Who would have?

He warned her not to scream. "If you scream, the police will come. There will be a hostage situation. I’ll have to kill you and kill myself." He seemed calm as he told her this. Just in case she tried anything, Nichols wrapped her hands and feet with masking tape. He then lifted her from the tub and carried her into the bedroom. He bound her with more tape, an electrical cord, and some curtains. With her secure, he took a shower and found some fresh clothes to wear.

This was just the latest installment of a rough life for Ashley. Four years before her husband had been murdered, leaving her with a young daughter to raise on her own. As a teenager, she was frequently in trouble. Once she was arrested for shoplifting and placed on probation for a year. Later came arrests for drunken driving, speeding, and battery. Ashley had lived a tough life. But somewhere along the line God had begun a work in her. When all this happened, she was working two jobs and completing a medical assistant course just to try to make a better life for herself and her daughter.

Eventually Nichols untied Ashley and let her sit in the living room. Ashley asked if he would mind if she read for a while. Nichols gave her the OK. She went to the bedroom and retrieved her Bible and a book she had been reading. She turned to the chapter for that day and began reading the first paragraph out loud to Nichols. She had only read a few sentences when told her to stop. ¡§Will you read it again?" She read it again. That was the turning point. The fugitive¡¦s attitude slowly began to change.

Would you like to know what caught the attention of the accused rapist turned murderer and runaway fugitive? Let me read you what Ashley Smith read.

"We serve God by serving others. The world defines greatness in terms of power, possessions, prestige, and position. If you can demand service from others, you¡¦ve arrived. In our self-serving culture with its me-first mentality, acting like a servant is not a popular concept. Jesus, however, measured greatness in terms of service, not status. God determines greatness by how many people you serve, not how many people serve you. This is so contrary to the world¡¦s idea of greatness that we have a hard time understanding it, much less practicing it. ... To be like Jesus is to be a servant. That¡¦s what he called himself." (The Purpose Driven Life, 323-324)

Later that same chapter offers this advice. ¡§Being a servant means giving up the right to control your schedule and allowing God to interrupt it whenever he needs. If you will remind yourself at the start of every day that you are God¡¦s servant, interruptions won¡¦t frustrate you as much, because your agenda will be whatever God wants to bring into your life. Servants see interruptions as divine appointments for ministry ¡K¡¨ (325-326). Ashley knew this was one of those moments!

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