Tuesday, October 16, 2007

"Why Should I Let You Into Heaven? Is That Your Final Answer?"

Someone once asked me how would I respond if after I died God asked me the question, “Why should I let you into heaven?”

It would be hard to imagine the heart-pounding magnitude of that moment. At the risk of trivializing this most serious of questions that will ever be asked of me, I can best describe this feeling by picturing myself as a contestant who has successfully reached the final question on “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” There’s only one correct answer standing in my way from the jackpot! I’ve used up all my lifelines getting there. Then God asks me “Why should I let you into heaven?” The clock starts ticking!

How would you feel being in that situation? What would you say?

If God asked me that question, maybe I should say, “I should be allowed into heaven because I’m a Christian.” Then God says in a Regis Philbin-like way, “IS THAT YOUR FINAL ANSWER?!” I realize at that exact moment that I’m not just talking to some TV personality, but the Creator of the Universe! And it isn’t just a million dollars that I’m trying to win on some game show. No. Instead, my eternal destiny is what is on the line! As I stand at the doorsteps of both heaven and hell, I weigh my final answer very carefully.

Just then I feel a presence of confusion envelop me as doubt begins to mount up within me. “Am I correct?” I pose to myself. I feel as though a battle is waging inside in which the victor receives the spoils of my soul! I hesitate in providing a final answer. Beads of sweat begin to perspire on my forehead and upper lip. In desperation, I look for a lifeline. I’m then reminded by the Heavenly Host of the show that I’ve already used up all my lifelines. I grimace in response. The Host then advises me to talk it out. I pray for a miracle of insight and wisdom.

I attempt to logically think it through. I tell myself, “My answer wasn’t from me, but from Jesus Himself. They’re not my words, but His. If He indeed is God, then my answer is correct.” But then I thought, “What if He isn’t God and there’s some other way to heaven or what if He is God and all that’s true, however I find out that I’m not really a Christian?”
[i] I offer up another prayer.

Suddenly, a most unusual thing happens. In what seems like a lifetime, but what was actually less than a minute, my life flashes before my eyes. Specific instances from my past play out in my mind with great clarity and focus, as if I was re-living them.

I first find myself in a church pew listening to the minister share about how one can be adopted into God’s family. Even though I’m only eight, the message that morning makes a lot of sense. I understood that I was a sinner; and I so much wanted a father to love me. So I made a decision right there to believe in this God – this Heavenly Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and accepted Jesus into my heart for the forgiveness of my sins. But what all did that really mean?

On the basis of what the Bible reveals about the nature of God and His patience and grace, one can say that this was when I became a Christian. On the other hand, the Bible also describes what a life looks like that has been touch by the hand of God. And as I began re-tracing my steps through the rest of my adolescence and into early adulthood, my life did not resemble outward signs of any significant, real inward change.

While growing up in a fairly nominal “Christian” environment, I viewed my faith as an inconsistent, “only-when-convenient” approach to living, comprised of nothing more than a compartmentalized seasonal ritual of going to church, singing songs, and dropping a few dollars in the plate. If I gave an honest answer at the time, I would’ve said my faith was more a function of what I said I believed than in what I really believed. I naïvely and simply accepted hand-me-down ideas and opinions of what others thought of Jesus and the Bible. Jesus was nothing more to me than a fire insurance policy I could stuff in my hip pocket and use some day if necessary. Based on the evidence of my lifestyle and my lips, a case could be strongly argued that the decision I made back then in my youth was not a true, saving faith decision to believe in Jesus (John 1:12), but just a religious acquiescence at best (James 2:19).

Not until my junior year in college, were my ignorant and quite dangerous half-baked spiritual conjectures ever really tested. Despite a strong willingness to succeed, it was at this time in my life, that focused and disciplined determination gave way to frustration and hopelessness. Instead of attaining a higher degree of satisfaction from my successful accomplishments, I became increasingly aware of my own moral depravity. Also during this year, I witnessed firsthand the death of a fellow student whose life ended horrifically in a tragic car-train accident. Soon after this, someone challenged me to ask myself what it was that I really believed, and whether I was willing to live based on that belief. While all this was happening, the truth of God was consistently being displayed to me by a Christian on my track team. Unaware at the time, God was building a crescendo of life’s experiences together to reveal to me some important truths, which I gradually began to recognize.

These events compelled me to not only re-examine myself, but to seriously question – for the first time in my life – whether it was worth it to continue placing my hope in myself or in anything of this world. As a result, I started exploring the possibility of God again. Profound questions began to surface such as “Does God really exist?” and “If He does, is Jesus Christ really Him?” I thought to myself, “If God was to be found, then church was where I would find Him.” So I set a personal goal after returning to campus for my last year of school, to go to church every Sunday until I figured out if this God was real and whether Jesus was indeed who He claimed to be.

During one of those first church services I attended, the gospel message became personally relevant to me. I finally realized what I was longing for was not found in what I could do or get, but rather in what God had already done and what He freely offered. God had worked through those past events and people to prepare my heart and mind not only to hear the truth again, but as well, to truly receive it. As a result, Jesus’ love pierced my heart to the core of my soul. It was then, after years of trying everything else to bring real meaning and satisfaction to my life, did a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ become real.

Many nights thereafter, I found myself alone in my room, emotionally awestruck, as I attempted to grasp the enormity of God’s love for me. I responded to this new-found discovery by getting involved in a small group bible study, regularly attending a bible-believing church, and receiving mentorship from that close friend who was a central witness in my life.

Like all new Christians, though, I had not instantly grasped all truths about God. I did not know much, for example, about the holiness of God or the destructive nature of sin in my life.
[ii] All I remember knowing for sure was that Jesus loved me and I needed that love. While my lifestyle began to change as I matured in my faith, there were also occasions I took my focus off following Jesus and experienced firsthand the damaging effects of not living God’s way.[iii] One such memorable occasion stemmed from a discontented heart that looked to money for answers during some difficult financial times. As a result, I wandered away from the straight and narrow road and found myself in significant debt.[iv]

Yet, through this trial, God was still beside me. The healing process began as I turned back to Him. In addition to beginning to repay the money I owed creditors, part of the repentance from that ordeal involved humbly asking for help. I was blessed as I received love, encouragement and guidance from other followers of God. In so doing, I found a new church home.

While the struggles still continued, the constant realigning of myself back into God’s way of living always brought about healing and growth. The lessons learned by my mistakes led not only to a better appreciation of God’s continued forgiveness in my life, but also a deepened desire to point others to Jesus.

God used all the events of my life – both good and bad – to reveal His love to me. Through the circumstances of life, I was brought to a place where I could truly trust Jesus with my present as well as my future.

I’m now awoken from my pensive retrospection by the sound of God’s voice. The Host of the show leans forward in His chair and summons, “it’s time for your final answer.” While my answer remained the same, my confidence in that answer had changed. I now knew my answer was correct and that it applied directly to me: “Dear Lord,” I said, “I should be allowed into heaven because I am a Christian.”

How could I be so confident in my final answer?

I’m certain my answer is right because Jesus said it is so. And I’m confident He is right because He has demonstrated His trustworthiness.
[v] Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.” [vi] The Bible tells us that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.[vii] And Jesus’ blood, it says, is the only acceptable sacrifice that can appease God’s perfect justice and remove the stain of sin in my life.[viii] I could never merit entrance into heaven on my own. But Jesus adequately paid for my sin debt with His blood when He died that horrible death 2000 years ago, on a hill called Calvary. And it is through Jesus’ resurrection that He displayed His power over death, which brings me hope and confidence in the promises of God.

While I may not know for sure when I became a Christian, I do know I’m a child of God now. I’m confident of this not because of some feeling, or because of something I do to show what or who I am, but because I simply trust, by faith, the gift of Jesus. I’ve received His blood. I’ve received His promises of what He has already done and will do. I’ve received Him. Being a Christian simply means I’ve received God’s righteousness in exchange for my unrighteousness.
[ix] That’s what makes me a Christian. That’s why I’m sure of my inheritance of heaven. The Bible says:

“this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” [x]

For this reason, I can humbly punctuate my answer to God with the words: “…and THAT is my final answer.”

We all will be in the “hot seat” at some appointed time in our future.
[xi] Nobody is certain when God will lean to us individually and require a final answer to that eternal question. Yet, we can be certain of one thing; that day will come. What will be your final answer?


[i] For an answer to the former question, see the book “I’m Glad You Asked” by Ken Boa & Larry Moody, chapter 8.
For the significance of the latter question from a biblical perspective, see the Bible: 2 Corinthians 13:5.

[ii] I feel even now, over 10 years later, I’m just beginning to understand these things.

[iii] See Hebrews 12:2.

[iv] See 1 Timothy 6:6-10.

[v] For a Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence of Jesus, read “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel.

[vi] See John 14:6.

[vii] See Hebrews 9:22.

[viii] See Ephesians 2:13.

[ix] See 2 Corinthians 5:21.

[x] 1 John 5:11-13 (NIV)

[xi] See Hebrews 9:27.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Getting to know your friends Q & A (Winter 2006 Edition).

* I must say that Nate, you and I think a lot a like. Therefore, some of my answers remain the same as yours. Why delete and retype I say. * * *

  1. What time did you get up this morning? I set my alarm for 7:30, but I didn't get up til 8:30.
  2. Diamonds or pearls? ok, maybe I shouldn't fill this out. maybe this is too much chick-like. ...alright, I'm open, I'm open.
  3. What was the last film you saw at the cinema? End of the Spear
  4. What's your favorite TV show? right now, it is definitely Smallville
  5. What did you have for breakfast this morning? bagal (with creme cheese)
  6. What's your favorite cuisine? Mexican, Chinese
  7. What foods do you dislike? anything that's staring back at me.
  8. What is your favorite chip flavor? ah, n.a.
  9. What's your favorite CD at the moment? Masters Series In Christian Thought by Stand To Reason (actually it's comprised of 10 CDs)
  10. What kind of car do you drive? Doesn't everyone already know. Chevy S-10. as Bo & Luke says, "yyyeeeee-HAAAAA!"
  11. Favorite sandwich? Anything that begins with the word, "Big."
  12. What characteristics do you despise? inauthenticity; also self-righteousness (which anyone possesses who claims to be a good person in themselves).
  13. What is your favorite type of clothing? loose fitting clothes -- especially pants.
  14. If you could go anywhere in the world on vacation, where would you go? Europe and Israel.
  15. What color is your bathroom? hold on. let me go check... white.
  16. Favorite brand of clothing? don't care.
  17. Where would you retire to? First off, let me say I will not retire (like Nate). But if you are asking me where I plan to live in my remaining years, I would hope it would be someplace like Colorado, North Carolina, or Hawaii.
  18. Favorite time of the day? to quote one of my favorite movies, "breakfast time, lunch time, and dinner time." But seriously, it would be late in the day; that's when I'm most productive.
  19. What was your most memorable birthday? my last; my memory is getting worse with old age.
  20. Where were you born? Zanesville, OH
  21. Favorite sport to watch? basketball (March Madness baby!), but I must say I've enjoyed a few NCAA football games in recent years.
  22. Who do you least expect to send this back to you? don't know; someone who wasn't on the email list I guess.
  23. Person you expect to send it back first? no clue.
  24. What laundry detergent do you use? usually, it's whatever's the cheapest.
  25. Were you named after anyone? yes, my middle name is my father's first name; my first name is the same as my mom's cousin's first name.
  26. Do you wish on stars? yea, right.
  27. When did you last cry? can't exactly remember, but it probably was a month or two ago. I'm not at all afraid to cry. It most likely was a result of reflecting on who God is, and how much He loves me.
  28. Do you like your handwriting? I used to be pretty good and was proud of it; now, I don't care...I think it's not as good. I mainly type now.
  29. If you were another person, would YOU be friends with you? It all depends on what kind of person I would be. ; - )
  30. Are you a daredevil? in regards to physical stunts; heck no. I've got too messed up playing competitive sports. The last thing I need to do is get messed up more seeking thrills that are more fleeting than the ongoing pain that usually accompanies them. I take a common-sense approach to those sort of things.
  31. Do looks matter? Of course they do. Anyone who says otherwise is fooling themselves. They don't mean everything, obviously, or even the most, but definitely go into your perceptions. (well said Nate.)
  32. How do you release anger? who me? heck no, I just supress it or deny I get angry.
  33. Where is your second home? here on earth
  34. What were your favorite games to play when you where a child? oh! that's easy...kick the can. But later in adolescence, it became basketball.
  35. What class in high school was totally useless? none; even math; I wish I applied myself better
  36. Favorite movies? go under my profile to the upper right to see the list.
  37. What are your nicknames? Fast Eddie; Underfed Ed (in college; I always ate as though I had not eaten in days and looked as though I had not eaten in weeks); Super Ed in junior high.
  38. Do you untie your shoes when you take them off? yes; otherwise the shoes won't last as long; I think my mom taught me that. (don't know if it's true; but is seems to work for me. I'm like the Isralites wondering in the desert - my shoes last forever! I just hope I'm not metaphically "wondering in the desert.")
  39. Do you think that you are strong? in my hubris, yes (delusional); in Christ, yes (realistic, not arrogant); in my own strength -- apart from God -- no (realistic, and honest). [*you may need to stop and think about this one.***]
  40. What's your favorite ice cream flavor? mint chocolate chip
  41. What are your favorite colors? hunter green and midnight blue
  42. What is your least favorite thing about yourself? my tendency at times to move into OCD mode.
  43. Who do you miss the most? an old friend.
  44. Do you want everyone you sent this to send it back? With their answers? heck no! I'm pretty much a self-centered individual; I don't have time to read about other people; I just want people to know about me; if you are reading this than you must be less self-centered than me.
  45. What color pants are you wearing? pants? what pants? I work from home.
  46. What are you listening to right now? the hummmm of my computer and a propeller plane flying way overhead outside.
  47. Last thing you ate? bagal (with creme cheese)
  48. If you were a CRAYON what color would you be? a two-pronged crayon of both yellow and green (I'm unique and very sophisicated.)
  49. Last person you talked to on the phone? my sister.
  50. Favorite Drink? Let me qualify that: on a hot summer day, it would be filtered (not bottled nor distilled) water with ice cubes that, of course, are also filtered. On a cold winter day, hot chocolate. On a fall day, cider. On a spring day, let's say a fruit smoothie.
  51. Do you wear contacts? yes.
  52. Favorite Day of the Year? Thanksgiving.
  53. Scary Movies or Happy Endings? happy endings
  54. Summer or winter? Summer
  55. Hugs OR Kisses? whatever shows the appropriate level of love and affection (sorry for the Spock-like answer).
  56. What is Your Favorite Dessert? Royal cherry cheese cake
  57. What Book(s) are you reading? Dumb Things Smart Christians Believe - Misbeliefs That Keep Us From Experiencing God's Grace by Gary Kinnaman
  58. What is on your mouse pad? my mouse? (that's not my answer, but once again, Nate's; good answer man! And way to answer a question with another question.)
  59. What Did You Watch Last night on TV? Olympics for a bit
  60. Favorite Smells? the smell in the air of the changing seasons (especially fall).
  61. Rolling Stones or Beatles? I hate both bands with the fury of a thousand suns. (once again, Nate's answer)
  62. What's the furthest you've been from home? a town near the Slovakian border in Czech Republic.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Journal Entry for September 26, 2005

I think the emergence and proliferation of coffee shops in the last decade is simply a response to an increasingly unmarried populace – one of which includes me. Committed couples, with their white-picket-fenced, children-filled homes have been replaced with a seemingly unsaturated variety of coffee shops filled with unsatisfied customers looking for the perfect person to fill their insatiable desires for self-satisfaction. We are a culture of uncommitted, selfish, materialistic men and women who are never satisfied yet always looking for the latest and best “hot drink” to quench our insatiable thirsts. If I may be so frank, I think we need to repent!

Monday, February 14, 2005

What is Love?

I wrote this expository essay for a college English class. For a long time, the professor had it posted on his website, but due to web changes (and passing time), it has since been removed. Now I present it here.

The reason I chose this topic can be attributed to my intrigue with the definition of the word "love" -- which, incidently, the characters in Plato's The Symposium contemplated. In this paper, I present many different definitions of love including my own. While discussing these different views, which includes Humanistic and Christian perspectives, I highlight something they all share in common.


Love is an often used word in our daily language. We may say we "love someone" or "we love to do something," yet our expressions for these things may tend to be different than someone else's. In Plato's book,The Symposium, many of the characters offered their own responses to the question of "What is love?" Frequency in usage of this word has made it difficult for it to be defined in just one word or in just one sentence; Webster defines love in more than nine different ways. Due to this wide scope in meaning, I will avoid any attempt to explain what love actually is or is not, I will only attempt to describe some of the differences that do exist and offer my own interpretation of what love means.

Through personal investigation, I have concluded that perhaps there is something all definitions of love share in common, and that is that love is an "object" or "condition" of which we all strive to attain in order to fulfill some void that exists in our lives. Throughout our existence we are continually searching for something to fulfill our needs and grant us happiness. People often ask themselves, "What is the purpose of life?" I believe it is this quest to find purpose and, therefore, true happiness which is at the root of real love.

Depending on who you ask, an answer to the question of "What is love?" can range from being an ideal state or absolute condition which Socrates expressed in Plato's The Symposium to a more relative state or condition involving joy and excitement.

To illustrate this second love of relativity, I offer the analogy of baseball. When a man says, "I love baseball!" he may mean he likes to play the sport, or he may enjoy watching it on TV or going to a ballpark and watching it in person. Possibly, he loves it for the many things that surround the game like the ballpark hot dogs served at the stadium or because it reminds him of his childhood playing with his friends in the old sandlots. Whose to say? The point is he likes spending time involved in the game and the degree of love he attains from this sport may be greater or less than someone else's.

Love can also be found through intimate relationships with others. In Plato's The Symposium, one of the guests at the dinner party, Pausanias, believes that love exists in two forms. One of these types is what he calls a Base Love which is described as an attraction for one another that is physically based, self-centered, and temporary. I believe that many people today who expect to find love, settle for this limited form of expression in their intimate relationships. When they experience anything resembling true love, they call it that and take in as much of the moment as they can.

For example, I know someone who has been dating a guy for a little over a month. On Valentine's Day, as an attempt to maximize the experience, she resolved herself into believing that she was in love with him so that the moment would seem more meaningful. Many people may express strong feelings of unity and trust toward one another through intimacy. Later, they may discover that the bond was held together only by a thin strand of lust that soon broke apart leaving behind nothing else worth preserving. Perhaps this temporary love can explain why many marriages today lead in divorce. While I would agree one could define this as love, such as when two "make love," I would more narrowly categorize it as being a relatively superficial one at best.

The other love defined by Pausanias is called a Higher Love. He describes it as a higher spiritual relationship between two people--often not involving physical intimacy--that becomes more meaningful, uncompromising and more permanent than the aforementioned one. This type of intimacy can involve close friends who share with one another personal feelings and offer emotional support, or the relationship a father may have with his child.

Plato's Socrates describes a higher love as well, which he regards as absolute. It is perceived to be a pure knowledge and insight that can be found somewhere between mortality and immortality -- a great spirit which bridges the gap between man and the gods preventing them from separating entirely. This bridge offers man the fulfillment that he has been longing for.

A similar conception of absolute love is held by The Christian worldview. Christianity also perceives love as expressed in the form of a spiritual bridge by which union between God and man is made possible. However, unlike Socrates, who dismisses this spirit love as deity, Christians believe it is a power of divine origin. This divine power is acknowledged as the Holy Spirit which was granted as a gift from God, the Father, and offered through His Son, Jesus Christ.

According to the Christian faith, man is born sinful and therefore separated from a perfect and holy God. Because of this, we cannot experience God's absolute love. As the Bible says, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). But it was Jesus, a sinless and perfect man, who demonstrated God's intense love and grace by dying on a cross to pay for all of the world's sins so that we may receive God's Holy Spirit that enables man to love (Romans 5:8). Phaedrus , one of the men in Plato's book, defined true love as the unselfish act of sacrificing one's own life for another. If Phaedrus knew of what the man called the Messiah did for all humanity, I am confident he would consider Jesus as possessing this great love.

Just as the Priest said in the movie, Jesus of Montreal, what has made Christianity so appealing to so many people throughout history is that God's love is made available to those who are in need of love. God's love can be illustrated simply by a passage in the Bible which reads: "For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son so that anyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).

It is this idea of a higher divine love which is shared by many of the Humanistic view expressed in Plato's The Symposium, as well as the Christian view, for which I share. However, there is a difference worth noting before illustrating further common areas between these two beliefs. Many of Plato's characters present at the dinner party feel the meaning of love is attributed to the Greek god of Love while the Christian view of love is attributed to only one true Almighty God -- the God of all gods, the Lord of all lords, and the King of all kings. Once that distinction is recognized, similarities of both "schools of thought," if you will, can be drawn in comparison to love coming from a higher, immortal being.

Throughout our lives, we are always trying to fulfill our need of love through lesser means than a perfect love; that is what makes us sinful, according to the Christian perspective, and unable to reach the richest love of all found in God; "For the wages of sin is death" (spiritual separation from God) (Romans 6:23). Some try to achieve happiness, as I said early, through activities like baseball or intimate relationships with other people. Yet, according to Plato's Agathon: "[N]o pleasure is stronger than Love. . . If then all pleasures are weaker than Love, Love must be the master and they his subjects." (p. 70) By replacing the polytheistic Greek god of Love with the monotheistic Christian God, Agathon's statement would be shared by Christians. Therefore, finding a higher authentic love means overpowering these weaknesses of ours, thus rendering the aforementioned expressions of love centered on objects or actions as incomplete and less meaningful.

In support of finding this higher superior love, Plato's Aristophanes advises we strictly obey the god of Love. He proclaimed: "Let no man set himself in opposition to Love. . . for if we are his friends and make our peace with him, we shall succeed, as few at present succeed, in finding the person to love who in the strictest sense belongs to us. . . . (p. 64-65)

In the Christian view, Love is represented in Jesus Christ who seeks to protect, care, and redeem us all. In order to experience Christ's love, one must admit he or she is sinful and receive Christ into their lives. Once a relationship has been created, Christ will forgive our admitted sins so we may experience forgiveness and the happiness that follows. Aristophanes explains this point in his own humanistic perspective:

". . . if we conduct ourselves well in the sight of heaven, [Love] will hereafter make us blessed and happy by restoring us to our former state and healing our wounds." (p. 64-65)

I conclude, therefore, that once we experience this absolute love of God, we have thus fulfilled that for which we have always been searching. For Christ said, "I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly" -- that it might be full and meaningful (John 10:10). Again, I believe this source of overflowing life is through the Holy Spirit. (See John 7:37-39.)

In regards to finding love through intimate relationships, I believe that partners can decide either of the two loves that Pausanias described. Those who decide to fulfill their need for happiness instantly would be more inclined to pursue a carefree "no strings attached" relationship characteristic of a Base Love. On the other hand, those who believe that maximum fulfillment can come from a Higher Love may instead choose a more meaningful, longer lasting commitment, possibly through marriage. Still, if neither of these forms satisfies one's definition of love, one may decide to yield their lives to the highest form of love -- an absolute love involving an intimate relationship with God.

While love can be defined in many different ways -- whether one is a fundamental Christian, a fundamental Humanist, or an agnostic --absolute love is truly real and powerful. Some, such as Phaedrus, even say that it is worth dying for. Once it is identified to be either pure wisdom or divine knowledge, or perhaps great happiness and inner peace, it is something each of us has a yearning to possess in our lives.