How does the thief on the cross fit into your theology? No baptism, no communion, no confirmation, no speaking in tongues, no mission trip, no volunteerism, and no church clothes.
He couldn’t even bend his knees to pray. He didn’t say the sinner’s prayer and among other things, he was a thief. Jesus didn’t take away his pain, heal his body, or correct the scoffers.
He was a thief who walked into heaven at the same hour as Jesus simply by believing. He had nothing more to offer than believing that Jesus was who he said he was.
No spin from a brilliant hipster mega preacher. No ego or arrogance. No shiny lights, skinny jeans, or crafty words. No social media posts, stories, reels, or tweets. No haze machine, donuts, or coffee at the entrance. Just an unclothed dying man on a cross unable to even fold his hands to pray.
For God so loved the world he gave his only begotten son so that whosoever believed in him would not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16
I read those words earlier this week, and they shook me. I mean, they really shook me to my core.
In our effort to grow numbers, hype, and platforms, American Christians have substituted the simplicity of Jesus being crucified, buried, and risen to give us life with a shallow, entertainment-driven version of THE GOSPEL.
I am part of the problem! When I make the church the center of me, the reason we exist, or the number of people that attend the standard of greatness, I am the problem! The only reason the church exists is Jesus the Lord. Period, hard stop.
The only good that I offer the world is because of Jesus. The message the church offers, remembering that I am the church and you are the church, is Jesus, born to a virgin mother, living sinlessly, radically transforming the world. He disrupted the norms of the day, challenged the thinking of the wise, welcomed the poor and the humble, and showed disdain for only one group – the most religious people of the day. OUCH!
For all of the arguments around theology, fundamentalists, charismatics, reformed, and denominations, the one test of authentic theology is found in this dude on a criminal’s cross next to Jesus, who simply believed. No room for church membership, tithing, worship songs, praise music, or comfy chairs. He didn’t even have a projector with cool-looking slides, for goodness sake. He simply believed.
Luke 23:39-43 (NLT)
One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself-and us, too, while you’re at it!”  But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die?  We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.”  Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”  And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
If this challenges your theology, welcome to the humbled group of Jesus Followers I belong to. A group too easily swayed by the shiny preacher in sneakers, the hip worship leader in a cool hat, or the church with the really cool building that feels like a resort when you arrive.
Please don’t get me wrong. I agree with the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:22-23, where he states,
“When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.  I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings.”
But when the style becomes the theology, or the orthodoxy becomes the god, we need the reminder of the theology discovered on the cross with Jesus stating the beautiful words, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
As we prepare for Holy Week, millions of us will flock to the beach for Spring Break. May we remember that the same love shared with that thief is available today. Let our theology be that of the interaction with Jesus and the thief-dude. Believe and receive the love of the one that you cannot make not love you.
Go in Peace, Chuck