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Pinnacle Presbyterian Church

Echoes Blog

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye." ~Matthew 7:1-5

It is a conversation where names like Hitler and Stalin quickly come to mind when we start talking about who is “in” and who is “out”. It is easy to go to the worst people we can think of and say that they are not in heaven while always assuming that we, and people like us, are in. I mean, we are good people; we go to church some times, we are familiar with some of the Bible stories. We have never killed anyone, or robbed a bank.

In working with Jr. and Sr. High students the conversation of “who is in and who is out” comes up quite regularly. Part of the reason is because they are still trying to figure out what is needed to be “saved”. What does it take? It has always been interesting to me how we are so concerned about who makes it to heaven and who doesn’t.

This summer after having this conversation for umpteenth time as I sat in my living room with a group of high schoolers, it occurred to me that we are asking the wrong question. So I asked a series of questions going down the rabbit whole of faith. I started with “What do you have to do to go to heaven?” The consensus was to have faith in Jesus Christ. My next question was, “Is there anyone you know that you would want to spend eternity in hell?” Again their was an consensus was “no” they didn’t know anyone they knew who they wanted to go to hell. Then I asked who they thought was in hell? The names of Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, child molesters and serial killers were all on that list. When you die and you go to heaven, would you think less of God or be mad at God if you saw that Stalin or one of the people you named were in heaven? There was silence followed by a “maybe” and a few “I don’t know”s.

 As students thought about that question for minute I asked another question. “If heaven is really as great as we are told it is, why wouldn’t we want everyone, no matter how bad they were, to be a part of it? Why would we want to keep anyone from being in God’s presence? The questions that came back surprised me a little bit. They asked, “If everyone got in, what would be the point of living a good life?" And “Why would God want to be around a bunch of murders?”

We turned to Luke 15:11 and read the story of the Prodigal Son. We talked about how the younger son left and did what he wanted, and finally after years away, came back to his father’s house. Instead of casting his son out, the father threw a party, killed a fatted calf and gave him new clothes to wear. We talked about the how the father’s grace overflowed for the younger son, who humbly entered into his father’s house. On the other side of that is the older brother, the one who stood to inherit everything; the one who got to spend all those years in his father presence. He was angry that his father would just show grace and mercy to his younger brother, so he stood outside sulking, instead of celebrating with his father the return of his younger brother.

Despite this picture of the loving father welcoming back his lost son, the reality is that Jesus did talk about hell and what it would be like, and who would be there. However, when Jesus talks about hell and who will be there, it isn’t the prostitutes, tax collectors, homosexuals or even the adulterous women who Jesus says will go to hell; it is those who thought they were holy, those who pass judgment, those who would rather make a list of who is “in” and who is “out” than work to introduce those who don’t know Jesus to his love and grace.

As we continued our conversation it became very evident that it is fruitless to spend much time worrying about who is in and who is out, but rather, we should do everything we can to introduce people to God’s love and mercy. We should not want people to be “out”. We should want everyone “in” instead of passing judgment on someone who is different than us, alienating them for having different beliefs, throwing them out because what they have done or how they dress. We should be more concerned about showing them who God is in our lives; how God has changed us. How we, yet sinners like the rest of the world, try each day to live under God’s mercy and grace. We should show them how important Jesus is to us, not by passing judgment, but by living our lives in a way that glorifies Him and who welcomes others in the Kingdom of God.

When the day comes for us to join the Father in heaven, we shouldn’t be upset with who is there, we should be sad by those who aren’t, and do everything we can to make sure everyone we meet is invited.