Saturday, February 17, 2018

Stories can heal the world. A short 3 minute film.

❤️ Stories can heal the world! Don't be defined by your pain! Don't let your past stand in the way of your future. 🚀 Every minute of your life is worth something and is part of a greater narrative! You were created for MORE! (All these words have impacted my life)!

 Proud to be in this 3 minute short film from my filmmaker friend Lydia Isnanto! (I share this with the blessing of my mom who was the first one to see it!)

Friday, February 09, 2018

Jumping into the arms of Hugh Jackman..I mean...Jesus (Big news Part 2)

Part 2 of 2 (make sure you read what I posted yesterday).

We have this saying around our church. 

We say it on Sundays at the end of our gatherings: May you jump into the arms of Jesus…. (Let me stop right here).

I like this image.

I like the jumping out, the soaring, flying... into God’s loving arms. Because the way I see it when you jump---the next think you do, after a big warm hug, is take his hand and go out into the world to brave all it’s adventures, pains, hopes, and uncertainty...with him.

Twenty years ago almost exactly, I jumped with Jesus from Illinois to Redwood City, California to come serve as an intern with a church, PCC,  in California. It was a dream come true. I graduated college, filled my sea green Toyota Tercel up with all my belongings (basically clothes and CD's. I didn't even have a cell phone, but I did have a word processor ) and drove myself out to sunny California, (something I had dreamed about since I was a young kid).

And my LIFE WAS CHANGED by God in so many ways.

I’ve served, led, been healed and formed in this same church community that I've been a part of since 1998. I grew up here. I've spent HALF MY LIFE HERE!!! What?? I met and married my wife here. I started my family here. Wow. I feel so encouraged with all that God has done and the kingdom work we’ve accomplished with my friends and colleagues here. I served in India, Africa, Italy, and Mexico. I got my Masters, I got ordained, I officiated so many weddings, baptisms, dedications, and funerals that I can't even count. Truly, overwhelmed just thinking about it. I have to include some pictures to illustrate just how much fun I've had!

My favorite part is that new dreams have been birthed in me over my twenty years, and new paths have been forged for my future.  

My world view has broadened in my travels around the world. My theology has grown and been expanded. I’ve been able to explore and experiment with my skills and abilities in the arts, and it seems God has brought me full circle to dreams that he planted decades ago, something long buried in my heart. (More on this in the coming weeks).

So here’s the big, exciting news!
I resigned from my job with PCC.

Writing that out is so weird. I've had this ONE full time job for half my life!
I've never had to "resign" before. It feels so final and sad, and it kinda is.

But I am so full of hope and excitement for the future.

It took a lot discussion and prayer with my wife, trusted friends and mentors.

It’s time to JUMP once again, and move on to the next adventure.

It all became clear in December. Not the Christmas gift I was expecting, but it was the perfect timing.  Our church is growing and changing and I, along with our lead team
of pastors have been working hard to move our organization to what we believe is our future. I got to help shape things and cast vision and I thought I would be
on that bus headed there right along with everyone else.  But God used things in the process in the later part of 2017 to make it obvious to me that I had completed my mission! Pray for our church as we move through these changes. It's right...but still hard.

But God spoke so clear to me. It was a matter of hours that I knew. And so I made it official.

I resigned.

But...We are not sure exactly where we are going or what we are doing….yet.
That’s the crazy thing.

(But thanks to Hugh Jackman, and what I know of God's character, I'm expecting the end to this story is going to be amazing).

I had always figured it would be obvious when it was my time to hang up my PCC hat. I always thought like other normal people I would safely jump from one job to the next... I wanted things to be secure for me and my family. But God was clear with us. Step out. In faith. Trust. JUMP!

In some way I think it's perfect.

Practice what I've been preaching my whole life. Practice what I see so many others who have lived a life of faith and modeled what scripture encourages us to do.

Hebrews 11:8
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.

OK. So I guess we’re doing that, too!
We will follow God's leadings,  even when it doesn't make sense.

Sounds good in theory but it's really hard.
I may end up waiting tables (which honestly I like) or working at a production company. I could be consulting or starting other churches, or doing the weekend speaking circuit. (Need my services? Let me know :). I could end up in San Francisco or working in LA.

We don't really know.
See the tension?
Great hope mixed with anxiety...mixed with anxiety.

We live in a home owned by our church. Which means we have to move on and OUT, literally.

We have many perks that come with my job that allow us to live in the most expensive place in the world, and we have to give it all up.

Imagine explaining this to our kids. Lots of curious and strange questions for us and for our kids.

When will be get a house? When will daddy get a new job? When did God tell you? Can I keep all my stuffed animals? When will we know where we’re moving?

We don’t know. But what I do know is…God will provide AND I’ll work my ass off to provide for my family!

I’ve realized to be my best self….(sounds Oprah-like, I know) I need to be writing, performing, directing, and producing media, art, films... my own original stories! I need freedom to express my creativity and tell stories that can reach a larger audience. Over the past five years I've been able to create and develop many film projects and it's reinvigorated me for a career change.

Just watch some of these videos. This is what God has created me to do!

If you read my last post about Sundance and how Hugh Jackman 
wooed me into dreaming again....  you can see how this is all working itself out in me.

And I must respond.

No matter what I do or where I am, I’ll always live my life as a pastor. I see my life’s mission to wake people up to hope and bring new life to dead places in our hearts, lives, and world. I believe my work, whatever it is I am doing, is to comfort and encourage people into God’s forgiveness, freedom,  love, and acceptance.

I didn’t always see that I could do this in my filmmaking...but as I look back, I see God working this out in my life over the past five years (more on this in the coming blog posts) and I can’t wait to see more of it!

So for the next few months, I’ll be in transition.
My kids will finish out school and we’ll be looking for a house to rent somewhere, somehow.

I have some feature film scripts I am working on and looking for investors, and I’m applying at local companies that have producer and media jobs!

I’m also going to jump back into going on acting auditions in SF for  film and commercials.

I’ll still be working on staff with my church until May.
I’m grateful to spend my last days creating one of my favorite gatherings, the Good Friday service, producing great story videos and some other creative projects on the PCC campus as I wrap up my twenty year experience! I will always love the church and be a part of God’s family, whether in Redwood City or beyond. His hope has moved me so much and I pray it for us all to be healed as we participate in the healing of others!

I’ve tried to reach out to as many people as I can to share the news personally, but I know I won’t be able to do it with everyone. Please know I’d love to share more and answer any questions you have. If you have job opportunities, let me know. If you want to invest in some films and start a film production company with me, let me know. I’m serious. I have a LOT of stories to tell.

Let the next adventure begin.

-Tony Gapastione

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Hugh Jackman HIJACKED my life (Part 1 of 2)

I have had a man-crush on Wolverine since he debuted in the X-Men movie in 2000.
So much in fact that I dressed up like him for three Halloweens in a row. It was a little obsessive. (Apparently I expected you to use your imagination and see those imaginary blades coming out of my knuckles).

But, man this guy, (Hugh Jackman not Wolverine) wrecked me ONCE AGAIN. In December when I sat and watched his latest movie: The GREATEST SHOWMAN, the re-imagined story of P.T. Barnum's Circus....WHICH is a musical...

And I know, I know... I just lost a bunch of you reading this.  But bear with me.
I've seen it three times, and the soundtrack has been on REPEAT in our house for months.
(My kids constantly singing and dancing around is one of my favorite things lately).

This movie MOVED me. It changed me....and really it encouraged me for my future. 

Here's why.

It's a magical story of a dreamer. (I might be a wee bit of a dreamer myself... so I relate).

This film was about someone who visualized something beyond himself. He didn't have much, but he took what he had and spun it into a wonderful, colorful, world-changing reality for all those around him,especially the misfits and marginalized of society (perhaps one of my favorite themes in the story).

Yes, he did it with a song,  dance and a cane....and for some that's a bit cheesy...but if the music doesn't move you, then the story will, if you let it. 

Here's how it moved me.

As I sat in my little sanctuary, the movie theater, munching on kettle corn, I slipped my hand into my wife's... as the tears streamed down my face.

I felt understood. I felt alive! I felt desperate for this kind of life. (It also happened to parallel real life things happening in my life and work and future, more on that soon). It felt like my story, the story that God has been writing in my heart since I can remember.

The movie tugged on my heartstrings because of the love between this husband and wife and their daughters. Gosh, I never wanted to start a circus more in my life. But that's not the point of this blog reflection.

Here's the point.

I've come to realize, even more during these months since I saw the moive.  Not only am I a dreamer, but I am an optimist...and to a fault sometimes (I can easily idealize and hope TOO much that it can feel like I'm not living in reality).

But living with such hope and expectation keeps me alive when I feel put in a box, when I feel creatively starved, when I feel I've hit my ceiling. Dreaming and thinking about the future will always ground me and lift me up when I fall into dark emotional pits or seasons of uncertainty. Maybe it's my coping mechanism!!?

Here's some meaningful lyrics that I've been singing over and over.

I close my eyes and I can see
The world that's waiting up for me
That I call my own
Through the dark, through the door
Through where no one's been before
But it feels like home

They can say, they can say it all sounds crazy
They can say, they can say I've lost my mind
I don't care, I don't care, so call me crazy
We can live in a world that we design

'Cause every night I lie in bed
The brightest colors fill my head
A million dreams are keeping me awake
I think of what the world could be
A vision of the one I see
A million dreams is all it's gonna take
A million dreams for the world we're gonna make 


This is how I see it! Dream about the world you want to see. Create your destiny don't just sit on the couch and pray about it. Set goals and run after your dreams. Do NOT give up on them!

 Being you, living beyond your brokenness, self-imposed labels or societally imposed identities is one of the greatest challenges but most fulfilling decisions you can ever make. (and you should definitely watch this behind the scenes clip of the making of the film and music).

But keep this in mind.... these dreams come with a cost. The journey is full of pain  fear, temptation, and even sadness for the heartbreak that comes with pursuing those dreams. You might have to give up sleep, jobs, homes or the expectations others (or even you) have for your life.

 And it's not always easy being married to someone like me..(cough cough)..I mean Hugh Jackman (P.T. Barnum)...because it feels just like WALKING ON A TIGHTROPE. Just ask Michelle Williams (playing Charity Barnum), who had a wonderful song and portrayed the complexity and hardship of partnering with the PT Barnun, dreamer-types.

 So, I'm grateful for Hugh Jackman and those Wolverine claws that he's dug down deep into me. I'm thankful for good stories. and yes, I'm thankful for cheesy musicals.

Tomorrow I'm going to share more in depth...but I have some big changes coming in my life for our future.

Check back here for the story.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Stories can change the world

That's my new mantra.

I believe it. Wholeheartedly.
All stories CAN, meaning they have the ability, to bring change. They change our minds, they change our hearts, they change our actions.

Big stories like: the story of a man, a man-God, a God-man changed my life, changed my world through understanding an unconditional and sacrificial love.

And I've seen it happen to others, like a ripple effect, and I'm better because of how that story changed others.

And I've been changed by other "little stories": like a grandma who ran into her friend from high school and rekindled some old flame, or my kid who was nervous about starting kindergarten and made a best friend on her first day....or "The Greatest Showman" (Hugh Jackman musical) that just came out last month (which I think I need to blog on soon) and riveted me so much I bawled and saw it three times since.

So whatever the size, stories impact us. They make us feel and sometimes they compel us to action.

Perhaps that's why I love MOVIES so much.
I love watching them, talking about them, and MAKING THEM and I love FEELING them.

It brings me such energy. It is life for me. It's my worship (more on that in a minute).

For SIX YEARS I've taken a pilgrimage to PARK CITY, UTAH for the most influential film fest in the world. SUNDANCE. I highly recommend this experience. It's like CAMP! Surreal!

Six years ago I went on a whim, with Fuller Seminary (and Windrider Film Forum) as a student to discuss films, theology, and culture. It was awe inspiring, so much that on the first day in my first film I fell to my knees. Literally. I had experienced something so profound that it moved me to my knees, I was so weak and filled at the same time.

And I've gone ever since.

While I sit in the cinemas of this fest, I experience God in the same way many of us experience spirituality in a building with a cross on it on a Sunday morning.

It is my sanctuary. These moving images wash over me, read me, convict me, heal me and disturb me. WHY? Because I see God in (almost) every story. I think every story is a GOD story in some way. What does that mean?

It means in some way every story seen in film (or otherwise) is a story about forgiveness, freedom, hope, life death, resurrection( and more). And it was at Sundance that I realized these universal themes that I studied for my Masters Degree (and every day of my life and church work) were evident everywhere and beyond the boxes in which I put them.

It only made me want more. So I've returned every year since. Since my first trip in 2013 I've been on this roller coaster of inspiration. I go with a great group of theologians from Fuller Seminary and Film lovers from all around the world and we meet to discuss all the great issues of our time expressed through these films like race, women, sexuality and climate concerns to name a few.

When I first attended Sundance in 2013, I hadn't made film at that point, but I knew I would, simply from being around all that genius talent and inspiration. Panel discussions (above NETFLIX movie "A Stupid and Futile Gesture), workshops, Q and A's with directors, writers, and actors wooed me into joining this tribe! (And I finally did in 2014 when I made 1440 and Counting. And over the past five years I've made a myriad of short films...and now this year I attended with my friend and co-producer of my first feature film (Check it out here. 33 DAYS). What a journey!

Ed and I told anyone who would listen about the film we are producing. We met producers, distributors, and film lovers and shared our passion about one man who did a thirty-three day hunger strike. It was quite a week. (I would wake up at 7am and not get to bed until 1 or 2 am each day). We also had a quite a few laughs. People are strange. We humans are wacky, weird, and outright hilarious. People watching and interacting is THE BEST!

** PRO-TIP** I wore ORANGE GLASSES all around the fest because I was meeting SO MANY PEOPLE that I wanted to find a way to be memorable. So I could follow-up with "Hey, this is Tony Gapastione, the guy with the orange glasses." That's my thing now! Orange glasses at the fest!

And did I mention FREE COFFEE everywhere. Crazy how much swag and food they give away.

So this year, I pulled out a script I was working on and literally held it up as an act of faith. I WILL make movies. I will create, I will be a a part of changing the world by telling stories. I don't know exactly how or when, but I will. It's my prayer. It's my dream. It's my mission...from God (dare I say??!!)Who wants to join me? I need some sugar daddies, er..I mean angels! Angel investors, executive producers to finance these things! Hit me up! (SERIOUSLY!).

So what's next? Lots and I don't know. I'll keep plugging away at my passions. I'll keep telling stories to my kids at night, to our church,  to anyone who will listen, and with my typing fingers on my computer with the hopes that they'll get on a big screen (or little screen) somewhere and change a life, change the world.

Here's to dreaming!

 Stories CAN change the world.

NOT EVERY story does, but every story can.
So make it a good one.

Keep creating!
Thanks for reading.
That's my 2 cents. 

Tony Gapastione

Friday, January 19, 2018

Back to the blog.

I haven't touched this thing for almost three years. Three years of my life..UNBLOGGED!!  HOW CAN THAT BE?? (Haha).

I had other things going on.

I was doing a lot of living, even though  I took a break on blogging.  (Can you believe it?).
It's true. I did. I lived a lot of life in the last three years I just didn't blog about it. (Some would ask did it ever even happen if you didn't put it on onto the internet?)

I blame it on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
 It's way easier to retweet quips and pithy quotes and photos than to spend time trying to write and philosophizes attempting to entertain and influence, and with my words.
 What has this world come to????

(Actually I love this world! Instagram stories are the best. I know, crazy).

Lots has happened in three years. Where do I even start?

I've had lots of new things going on. I made two more short films, wrote two feature films, stopped and started many things withing my church PCC, traveled to Costa Rica for the first time..... and I got a dog! (But you already know that if you follow me on Instagram b/c he's always on there.

Even he has his own instagram. See, this world is crazy! A dog has his own social media following? (But come on, he's just too cool.)

Since the new year 2018 hit, I've incredibly reflective.  I hit twenty years living in California, thirteen years of marriage to my sweet wife, and raising up three energetic, spunky, beautiful girls (almost 6, 8, and 10).

Maybe that's why I need to get back to blogging. There are so many stories to tell!

I've always been a journaler.
Some seasons more than others.

But I've been feeling this nudge to come back to blogging to I can keep track of all the stuff going on in my life. Not necessarily to entertain or influence, but I reflect and  to share what I'm learning with whoever wants to read it.
(I'm speaking to you mom and dad).

My wife encouraged me to think of blogging again as keeping a MEMOIR, and I really like that. Since I'm halfway through with life, (what??? Midlife?? Yes!) It sounds like a good idea!

So....I'm excited to start AGAIN...and share the things I am learning, and just keep track of things when I'm old and forgetful.

Our church, PCC, is going through a series of conversations around what it means to RESTORE, REBUILD, AND RENEW. I love those words, even though I usually make fun of alliteration :), these things I can stand on! It's beautiful and a great place to start relecting and writing that memoir (for those faithful, curious, five family members).

So, I'll end here.
Please watch this video I wrote and directed based on these three words:

Bumper Video

It gives voice to my prayers...and our call to renew, and rebuild, and restore. It's happening inside and...out...and it's crazy, and I love it.

More soon!

I'm heading to the snow. Can't wait to post pics from one of my favorite weeks of inspiration. Any guesses what it is?


Follow on twitter/instagram/snapchat to keep in the loop!

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.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Father, forgive the BULLIES, for they don't know what they are doing.

Currently our church is studying the SEVEN LAST WORDS OF JESUS FROM THE CROSS.
 I am inspired to write seven blogs reflecting 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 #1. FORGIVENESS

I’ve tried three times to contact him. I googled him.  He lives two hours from where I live in California (which is ironic because when I knew him we both lived in Illinois). He has an email because I found it on his website, for his job, in which he is well known. I emailed him twice. I messaged him on Facebook once, but I haven’t heard a thing back.

Let me back up.

It was October, about a year ago. I was called in as an “emergency grief counselor,” to comfort and pray with high school students, like a priest, through the unthinkable. One of their peers took his life. Students questioned, sobbed, and even confessed their own depression, self-hatred, and temptations to end it all.

I prayed. I listened. I sat silently, as words don't always help in these situations.
 If you’ve read my blog posts before, or know my story, suicide and its destruction is a companion I know far too well. I tried to keep my own emotions at bay, but as I left the campus, I erupted and nothing could stop it. I almost had to pull my car over for fear of running off the road as I couldn't stop crying.
Sadly, my reaction this October day was tied to a completely different tragedy from my past. The pain these students carried in their self worth issues, rivaled my own pain, that had marked me some twenty-five years before.

Like many, my middle school and high school years were marked with awkwardness. Those already tough times of coming into one’s identity, crowded with questions, family challenges, and puberty is hard to make out alive, let alone normal. But my story included some of the most deeply cutting, evil moments of bullying. (Of which cost me lots of money in counseling, but that also saved me in so many ways). 

We humans can be downright awful to each other. And from age 13-17 I incurred some scars. I have had much healing and I'm glad that those days are in the past. But there are times, like this day in the car, when I am teleported back in time against my will, to relive and remember those moments. And it can still hurt, and hurt bad.

I hear the names I was called in those dingy hallways like it was yesterday. I can see the hateful faces that pressed me up against a locker or two. I'm glad I didn't have the guts to follow through with my own suicidal temptations.

One bully in particular, in sixth and seventh grade, left me significantly bruised (in more ways than one). His name is hard to forget. After all these years, I never thought of ever looking him up. Why would I? I wanted to get as far away from him as possible. Although, I admit, I dreamed of a day when I'd have my revenge. I hoped I would be bigger, smarter, and more condescending then him so I could make him feel small, as he did me.

 I even fantasized about being on one of those outrageous talk shows like Maury Povich or Jerry Springer, where people confront their baby daddies, cheating girlfriends, and extortionist grandmothers. I imagined inviting him there on false pretenses like you won a million dollars or you have a secret crush from high school who's now a celebrity. Then I would turn the tables on him and shame him in front of America for the things he said and did. And I’d gloat in hearing the crowds boo him and stir a riot where they all beat him over the head with metal folding chairs.

Yes, I’ve had those thoughts. And yes, I thought, at one time, it would make me feel better. I'm not proud of that. But that October day, this twenty-five year old pain resurrected in me and with it a new opportunity for forgiveness was birthed, and a new narrative began.  All because the words of Jesus, from the cross, echoed in my mind in a new way.

Jesus was bullied. Jesus was hurt, stabbed, spat upon, beat up, bruised, ridiculed, forgotten, mocked, whipped, and mutilated beyond human recognition. And the first thing he says from the cross, out loud, is a prayer of forgiveness. He tells God to forgive those whipping him, mocking him, pulling out his flesh, and nailing him to the cross. He forgives those who are killing him!

I was overwhelmed in my car with this fact: God is a forgiver! God forgave me for everything I've ever done, and will continue to shower me with grace for the rest of my life. I was like the one nailing him to the cross, I was the one mocking him, and he had forgiveness in his heart for me.

Every time we sin, every time we steal, kill, destroy someone with our thoughts, words, and actions, we have no idea what we are really doing. We have no idea the pain we are causing, and the dishonor we show not only God, but every victim of our our actions.We have no idea the years of pain we inflict on people through judging, deceiving, bullying, divorcing, cheating, betraying, _________(fill in the blank).

(And God knows this. And God has compassion on us, even while though there are consequences for our actions, and for those who exercise their free will to hurt others. God is a just God. He will discipline fairly and in a righteous way)

It wasn't easy, and it still hurts. But I knew, in some way, I had unforgiveness in my heart toward my bully, and I knew I had to deal with it. I'm still not sure how this all happens, and it truly is a process, but a new freedom came to me in my car. I realized he didn't really know how it was going to affect me. He had his own fear, insecurity, or pain that caused him to hurt others. And it was time for me to reach out to him. So I did.

I still haven't heard back from him, but if I do,  I will tell him how his bullying actions hurt me.  I won't shame him. I won't guilt him, but I'll say I forgive him because I want to, because God helped me to forgive and heal. And I'l tell him I'm actually still in process of learning to let it go and I'm still healing twenty-five years later.

Believe it or not, I'm still learning to believe God loves me. I'm still trying to accept he made me in his image, and I belong to him. I'm not all those names I was marked with years ago.  It's crazy how things can have a lasting affect on someone. But I've done the same things. I've hurt others in the same way. In fact, there might be some out there that are still in pain because of things I've done, who need to forgive me.

So I pray, we can be a people who forgive, because God forgives us.

God loves us, and that changes the way we relate to others.

GOD LOVES YOU and I hope you will be encouraged to take a look at the hurt you carry, or the grudges that way you down, by starting with the cross. If you have UNforgiveness toward someone, or plot revenge in your mind or wish evil against any person , or have hate for anyone in your life who has hurt you...then you aren't free, and you don't understand the saving love of God. (And please know this can be a long process for some).

Start with JESUS, the man, the savior, the one died FOR you, AND FOR the one who hurt you.  The only way we can forgive is to know the forgiveness of Jesus.

 Colossians 3:13
Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

  • Have you seen the movie Unbroken? There's so much more to his story. And it was all about forgiveness.  It humbles me when I want to hold grudges on those who "hurt" me. 
There are countless examples of people who have forgiven murder, abuse, adultery, and the like because the power  of God is at work in their lives that is supernatural, enabling them to do what seems unreasonable.

I want to be unreasonable.

Forgiveness doesn't mean we become best friends, or even have to stay in contact with those who hurt us. (Sometimes it's better we don't). Forgiveness is about our heart and mind, how we think and feel. We can forgive. Even if it takes a lifetime to do so. It is worth it. That is why I had to reach out to my bully, and I hope he can know the love and forgiveness of God.

Father forgive my bully, for he did not know what he was doing.

How about you?

FATHER FORGIVE ____________________.......

Need more help? Read this!