Friday, February 27, 2015

Truly I tell you, you can't control Heaven.

Currently our church is studying the SEVEN LAST WORDS OF JESUS FROM THE CROSS. This is my second of seven reflections on how each relates to me. We call it, LOVE'S LAST WORDS, because Jesus, full of love as he died, mustered up all his strength to say seven things that would change the world forever. 

BLOG #2 of 7: HEAVEN.

Flashback part 1: (January 25, 2015).

Him: You're going to Hell!
Me: Who? Me? What? You don't even know me. 
Him: If you love the world you don't love God. You're going to Hell.
Me: (Internal talk: Wait. Breathe. Just talk to him) What's your name?
Him: Luke
Me: I'm Tony. How about getting to know me before condemning me to Hell.
Him: If you don't repent, you're going to Hell. 
Me: Ok, but you know anything about me, Luke....  I love Jesus, bro! 
Him: Not if you're part of Hollywood, you don't. 

I was working production in Los Angeles on the SAG AWARDS, a live telecast celebrating actor's achievements in TV and Film  I've done it for three years, and it's a blast, with a great group of people to work alongside. I had to run an errand for the production coordinator during the celebrity red carpet arrivals. Since all of the production crew must be dressed to the nines, too, "black tie," I fit in with the rest of the tuxedo wearing A-listers. I darted out of the theater on the side street and ran into a group of  "protesters."

I had never been the "victim" of this type of harassment. I've seen them before doing their thing, and tried to start conversations (to no avail), read articles how they show up at funerals,  gay pride parades, and set up at city centers and the like. But never have I been the one being condemned.

OK, so hold up for a second. 

Let's talk about Heaven.
How do we "get" to  Heaven?

Ask that question of ten people and you might get ten different answers, even from smart, churchy, seminary, theologian-type people.

Some possible answers you might hear are:
  • Accept Jesus in your heart 
  • Repent of your sins and turn to God
  • Believe Jesus died for your sins
  • Believe Jesus is God
  • Believe Jesus is the only way to Heaven
  • Live a good life, be a good person
  • Acknowledge your immorality and confess your sin to God
  • Follow Jesus
  • Get saved and be baptized
  • Stop sinning and get baptized
  • Acknowledge you deserve Hell and ask God to rescue you from that punishment
  • Humble yourself before God and he will lift you up
  • Raise your hand, come to the altar, pray the sinner's prayer
  • Have faith in God, it's simple
  • Just pray
  • Get right with God
(and I guess, according to the protesters, ya just add "or go to hell," on the end of each of these to add some punch).

Me: I'm a pastor, Luke.
Him: Just because you're a pastor doesn't mean you're going to Heaven.
Me: Um. ya. You're right, but I know Jesus, like really know him!  I know the gospel. 
Him: If you did, you wouldn't be a part of this.
Me:This? What do you mean?
Him: Debauchery, greed...
Me: Luke, you're condemning me, judging me harshly and you just met me. You don't know my heart. 
Luke: Anyone who loves the world, cannot be a friend of God. All those people in there are going to Hell, and I'm here to tell them that. All these Hollywood movies are sending people to Hell.
Me: Dude, I have friends in there. I love the people in that building. What makes you think yelling at them is going to help them? And have you seen any of the movies we're celebrating tonight?
Him: It's all blasphemous
Me: What? Boyhood? Birdman? Stories about people finding themselves, looking for hope and purpose
Him: God is the only hope, without him, you're going to Hell. 

Wow. At the heart of what he was saying, there was truth. But clouded in horrible judgement and misconceptions.
I tried. I really did. I had to walk away. Our conversation was going nowhere.

What the heck? 

No wonder so many of us are confused, discouraged and exhausted by even thinking about Heaven (and Jesus), let alone trying to have a conversation it.

To any and all who've been treated poorly by anyone claiming to represent Jesus: I'm sorry. Not all those who represent Jesus are like that, and before you write Jesus off, get to know him-he will rock your world. (Do people still say that?).

Jesus said seven WORLD ROCKIN' things from the cross.  

Last week I blogged about his amazing, scandalous forgiveness that just seems unreasonable, and in some circumstances unfair. If I had to rank these seven sayings, his first two are just out of the gate, life altering.
  • Father forgive them (his accusers, mockers, murderers), for they do not know what they are doing.
  • Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.
Jesus was murdered for claiming to be God. 
 He was called a blasphemer He broke society's rules. Big societal NO-NO's like ....uh...working on the Sabbath (Saturday), and touching people who were bleeding or sick (a religious regulation that kept people oppressed and ostracized, away from God, even).

Jesus also forgave anybody and everybody. So y'know, murderers, prostitutes, whores... Swindlers and extortionists, people who stole money and manipulated hard working money earning civilians the equivalent of Enron. And Jesus would hang out with them and forgive them.  Then he would send them out on his behalf to recruit others.

And I'm sure he could stomach a Hollywood mucky muck or two, as well. He even forgave HIS OWN murderers in the very act! Who does that?

Man, we royally miss the the point, don't we? I'm not just talking about those unhappy campers hurling the fire and brimstone. 

I'm no different. It's our human propensity to separate and segregate others. Why do we do this? Because we are prideful and entitled. We flat out don't like people because they are not like us, or they don't think like us, or act like us, and even because "they" don't look like us. 

This isn't just happening on red carpet fashion shows. 

It's happening both in the church and on the street.
We love to say who's in and who's out, don't we? 
We love to CONTROL who's in and who's out. 

But Jesus won't stand for that.

His interaction with the criminal on the cross is evidence of that. Jesus would have nothing to do with our rules, our systems, our formulas, or our divisive ways especially when it came to who was in and out. Jesus was fully human, yet fully God. He lived totally outside of our Earthly laws. 

He lived a life of love and was killed for it.

And he hung, innocent, between two criminals, one turned to him, belittled him and mocked him. This criminal was dying and bleeding just like Jesus but he  demanded Jesus rescue him if he truly had the power of Heaven he claimed.

There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” -Luke 23 38-39
The other criminal, nailed to the cross for his crimes as well, (of which are never fully "itemized" but could have been  murder, theft, rape, or all of the above), recognized his actions justified his punishment.
 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?  We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”  -Luke 40-41

This criminal humbled himself. He knew he was wrong, and notice Jesus didn't have to hurl insults at him.

He looked at Jesus and simply said, "Remember me when you come into your Kingdom." Jesus looked right back at him and said, "Truly I tell you, today you'll be with me in paradise."

See ya in Heaven buddy! You're goin' with me! YOU'LL BE WITH ME. 

(Notice: The most important part of Heaven is being WITH JESUS).

Many people have been miffed, rattled, encouraged, and stimulated Jesus' interaction with the criminal for centuries. Why?
  • This criminal didn't get baptized
  • This criminal only had a few hours, if that, to "get right" with God. 
  • This criminal  didn't specifically ask Jesus for "forgiveness," outloud.
  • This criminal didn't raise his hand, or come to an altar
  • This criminal didn't profess his faith or even confess his multitude of sins one by one
  • This criminal didn't hear a sermon 
  • This criminal never said the sinner's prayer, or shouted Amen

YET, Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise
 (Luke 23:38-43). 

I just love this because it is so messy! I love messy! Messy can put is in our place and turn us upside down!

Any attempt we try to convey a list of rules, a formula, or overlay any specific one way to get to heaven, OTHER than simply COMING TO JESUS, is just....wrong. Even saying "coming to Jesus," requires an explanation. 

Yes, the criminal realized he had deserved punishment and he recognized the greatness of God. (All this is a bit implied in what he said," but the only words he said to Jesus were "Remember me, when you come into your kingdom."

Was this an acknowledge of his faith?

Maybe so. And I think it was a simple faith. So simple it is even hard to nail down and describe, difficult to understand, maybe even unfair in comparison to the faith of others.  (Listen to a podcast from our church's lead pastor here).

Doesn't this make you squirm? It does for me.

We want absolutes, especially when it comes to Heaven. But honestly, if we want assurance of Heaven, it's works in our favor it's not dependent on US, on our good and bads, etc

The only absolute we have, in regards to Heaven, is that JESUS is the KEY and he HOLDS the key! Heaven is about being WITH HIM!

So what do you think about Jesus? What do you think about Heaven?

Jesus is obviously not going to let your criminal history, past, sins, bad choices, fill in the blank negative blah blah blah prevent you from being with him, and being with him in Heaven.

And add to that all the things we use to separate others... and ourselves... from heaven.
  • Religions and/or rule following
  • Political parties
  • Hollywood parties :) 
  • Ethnicity or race
  • Sexual orientation
  • Denominational affiliations
  • Social economic status
  • Education
  • _____________________
  • Not even a past of refusing, mocking or working against Jesus (The apostle Paul, St. Paul, was a famous "Christian killer," who experienced Jesus, miraculously changed and ended up telling everyone about this amazing grace, writing most of what we know as the New Testament). 

And for that reason, I'm glad. Because I'm just like that criminal. 

I feel so thankful. 

Because Jesus looks at me, a guy who's far from having it all together, who's messed up a lot, and says, "You'll be with me." 

And I'm sure of it. I'm just a simple person who's simply said YES to Jesus , and  he welcomes me, whether I'm in a suit or in rags. 

No matter who believes it or not.

If you're someone who follows Jesus and wants others to know him, to understand Heaven--then just love people and talk to people about this story. 

  • Talk to them about the thief on the cross, don't leave that out. He had no good works, no great life to show God. 
  • Share the love of Jesus. Our God who would die for us. Share who Jesus REALLY is, the things he did and said, and be careful not to put our judgements on who is in and who is out. 
Can we just do this with out picket signs?

Let's leave the deciding the "who's going to Heaven and who's not" work to Jesus, he's a bit better at it then we are.

I'm pretty sure when I get to Heaven, I'll be surprised by who I see there. And I'm sure, many will be surprised I got in, too. Heck, even I know it's a gift and miracle I get to go! (Thank you Jesus!).

And I hope..really hope I get to see Luke, my picketing protester, in Heaven. That he would truly understand the amazing, scandalous love of Jesus, that would even include him, too.

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