Tonight as we made smores out behind the church, we had a conversation on Luke 23:32-43 and in particular verse 43: Jesus answered him,"Truly I tell you, today you be with me in paradise." We talked on the images that come to mind when we hear the word paradise : mountains, waterfalls, the Everglades, Disney World. And then we talked about what does our eternal paradise looks like to them: I did not get a single pearly gates, angels flying around answer. I got seeing people you love and those you don't know you love yet. Heaven is where you become who you were meant to be. Heaven is a reflection of Earth filled with peace (WOW!). I was blown away. For a circle filled with 13-18 year olds that is an amazing view of paradise.
Heaven is amazing. God says so and he pretty much is good on his word always. I know many people write alot of books on heaven and I am sure that is in response to the fact so many people worry about heaven and the afterlife. You know what? It's going to be perfect. We cannot even fathom it. So why try? Just accept you have an amazing gift at the end that is going to make you laugh, cry, cheer and be speechless all at the same time.
But I think God does not intend this final verse to make us feel comfortable with what we will have once we leave our mortal shell. You see I truly believe Jesus is with us each day. Oh I know, he will be coming again. But he walks with us each day of our lives; guiding, sustaining and lifting us up through the Holy Spirit. And as such these words: Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise' have a more powerful message. Paradise TODAY. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Not when we die. TODAY. He wants us to be living with him each day in paradise. To many this may seem fanciful but I beg to differ because i have seen paradise this week.
I have seen children's faces lit up from songs of praise even though they do not know the words. I have seen a middle school youth bend down to help a small child tie his shoes. I have seen people drop the busy-ness of their jobs for an opportunity to spread the message of God's love to children. I have seen a widow filled with joy as she reaches out and impacts the lives of her class and her helpers. I have heard the sound of a heavenly choir praising God for being an 'Awesome God'. I have heard insights on God's Word from children that have literally shocked adults with their profoundness.
I have seen paradise. It was not in a vision or in a far off time or place. It was in a small town in Missouri, in a building filled with children, youth and adults. It was this past week. It was simply this: God's children living fully for God and for each other.
Now, we just need to work on doing this the other 51 weeks out of the year.