Have I done enough good stuff in my life to get me into heaven?

I think many of us trying to figure out our faith and what we believe have struggled with this question. Does the good outweigh the bad? I know from my own perspective that is how I have judged people before so it seems logical that’s how it probably works with God. The underlying question here is really what does it take to make it into heaven? What do I have to do? This a question that has been asked for ages.

This past Sunday at Green Hills Church here in Nashville this question was addressed in part 8 of their “Believe” series. You can download a mp3 of the message here (right-click, then Save-As to download or just left-click it and it will play in your default media player). I would encourage anyone who struggles with this question to check it out.

So how do you answer the question? What must I do to make it to heaven?

Peace and Grace.

Tony

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Fat Man Squeeze and the Narrow Gate

Well after 20+ years of roadside advertising, Rock City in Chattanooga finally drew me in. My wife, my boys, my brother and his wife made the trip up Lookout Mountain to Rock City this past Saturday. I will just say quickly, it was a real nice time. Good value and some cool attractions. The attraction bellow is called “Fat Man Squeeze”.   

Now for those of you who don’t know me, I am not the most petite of fellows so I was a little apprehensive when I approached this part of the hike. Mild claustrophobia is also not an asset here either, but my boys were there so I had to venture in. It was pretty tight. I had to walk sideways and the whole time the rock walls were pressing against my front and back sides, and while my movement forward was never completely hindered, I had to remain mindful of what I was doing to get to the end.

Reflecting back on “Fat Man Squeeze” two things came to mind. First is in Matthew 7:13-14 when Jesus delivering the Sermon on the Mount tells His listeners that the gate that leads to following Him is narrow. In context, Jesus makes this pronouncement directly following His command to treat others as you would like them to treat you. I feel like Jesus was saying that it takes diliberate effort on our part to be like Him, and that making that effort won’t always be easy. He is calling us to choose the narrow gate of sacrifce and servitude over the wider gate of selfishness and being served. The second thing that came to mind was Psalm 27:5.

Psalm 27:5

For he will hide me in his shelter
     in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of
     his tent;
he will life me high upon a rock.

As I manuveured that tight squeeze I was a little freaked out at first. I felt confined and I felt a loss of control. What was odd was that the more I moved through it the pressure of the rock walls on both sides became comforting.

So whats the take-away? For me I learned a couple things in the “Fat Man Squeeze”. I learned that following Christ daily will aways require daily, even moment by moment, diliberate navigation through the narrow gate. I also learned that in the narrow gate there is joy and peace, and by letting go of whatever control we think we have and just enjoying the pressure of God’s love and grace that always surrounds we become enabled to fully enjoy the protection and security that God offers us in Jesus.

How do you guys see the narrow gate in the context of everyday life?

Peace and Grace.

Tony

Lady Liberty

I was on a road trip with my family to Baltimore this past weekend and we stopped for the night in Bristol, Virginia. Being in Bristol always conjures up memories for me of the two years my family lived there and always reminds me of the good times I had in Jr. High. Bristol is kind of a symbol for me in that respect. While we were there we found this replica of the Statue of Liberty. It was adjacent to a tax preparation business and so we did what any road tripping family would do. We mugged for photographs with it. 

The cool thing about the replica is that even though it was only a small representation of the splendor of the real deal it still evoked the same response in us that the original one does. Words like immigrants, Ellis Island, opportunity, and others filled my head there in the tax prep business parking lot. The other thing that came to mind is that as Christians one of our primary functions is to represent Christ to the world around us. The ideal being that the replica, us, should somehow remind those we come in contact with of the original, Jesus.  I began to wonder how many people I come in contact with would ever know of my commitment to Jesus other than me telling them about it. That thought scares me a little. How will people know that I follow Christ? Two things come to mind in regards to this question.

First, Jesus says specifically in John 13:34-35, that the world will recognize His followers by the way they love one another.

Second, the Apostle Paul tells us that those who are in Christ have been given the Holy Spirit to dwell in and guide us in life (Romans 5:1-5, Act 2:33, Galatians 4:6). Additionally, Paul also tells us that this Spirit in us will produce the fruits of the Spirits which are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance (Galatians 5:22-23). Jesus himself affirmed that it is the fruit of the person that identifies them (Matthew 7:15-18).

So what’s the take away? For me it is to check out how I am loving and what kind of fruit am I bearing. I really feel that in all of us who call on Jesus there is a constant battle that rages against our natural sin nature and the dwelling of the Spirit in us. I find that as seek God through His word and in prayer the Spirit is more apt to carry the day.

How about you guys? Do you think most people would know you are a Christian without you telling them, and how do you see the battle of the sinful nature versus the Spirit playing out in your walk? How’s you love and how’s your fruit? Maybe we could call churches orchards!

Peace and Grace.

Tony

What's in a Name?

Do you have nickname? Whenever my brother calls me on the phone I greet him with a hearty “Bro-Shocka”. It used to be “Bro-Saka” and before that “Bro-Sef”.  So what’s in a name? For my brother and I the nicknames we pin each other is our simple way of attesting to and affirming our affinity and love for each other, similar to the way a husband and a wife give each other pet names, but what about in the context of God?

We find several times in the Bible that God alters or changes the names of people. In our small group study we have been focusing on the life of Abraham and Sarah. This Old Testament couple both started out with different names, Abram and Sarai respectively.  Likewise, in the New Testament we see the individuals named Simon and Saul renamed to the more familiar names of Peter and Paul. The Bible records many name changes and the ones mentioned here are just few examples.

But why the change? It seems to me that in each instance above God was doing something in the lives of the individuals affected. With Abraham and Sarai God was establishing them as the parents of the His chosen people, and similarly in the examples of Peter and Paul, God was affecting change in their lives by establishing both as the primary leaders of the early church.

So what’s the take-away? For me it made me start thinking about who I am in Christ. It made me think, “Well God has been affecting change in my life, so hey where is my cool name change?” Then it hit me.

Forgiven, Redeemed, Reconciled, Adopted, Loved, Chosen, Elected, Protected, Sheltered, Disciple, Bond-servant …..

One of my favorites is found 1 John 3:1.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. (ESV)

It amazes me still that God showed His love for us by becoming one of us and submitting His guiltless life into the hands of those who would execute Him so that we might be greatly loved and additionally, greatly named. Thank you Jesus!

What are some of your nicknames?

Peace and Grace.

Tony

What’s in a Name?

Do you have nickname? Whenever my brother calls me on the phone I greet him with a hearty “Bro-Shocka”. It used to be “Bro-Saka” and before that “Bro-Sef”.  So what’s in a name? For my brother and I the nicknames we pin each other is our simple way of attesting to and affirming our affinity and love for each other, similar to the way a husband and a wife give each other pet names, but what about in the context of God?

We find several times in the Bible that God alters or changes the names of people. In our small group study we have been focusing on the life of Abraham and Sarah. This Old Testament couple both started out with different names, Abram and Sarai respectively.  Likewise, in the New Testament we see the individuals named Simon and Saul renamed to the more familiar names of Peter and Paul. The Bible records many name changes and the ones mentioned here are just few examples.

But why the change? It seems to me that in each instance above God was doing something in the lives of the individuals affected. With Abraham and Sarai God was establishing them as the parents of the His chosen people, and similarly in the examples of Peter and Paul, God was affecting change in their lives by establishing both as the primary leaders of the early church.

So what’s the take-away? For me it made me start thinking about who I am in Christ. It made me think, “Well God has been affecting change in my life, so hey where is my cool name change?” Then it hit me.

Forgiven, Redeemed, Reconciled, Adopted, Loved, Chosen, Elected, Protected, Sheltered, Disciple, Bond-servant …..

One of my favorites is found 1 John 3:1.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. (ESV)

It amazes me still that God showed His love for us by becoming one of us and submitting His guiltless life into the hands of those who would execute Him so that we might be greatly loved and additionally, greatly named. Thank you Jesus!

What are some of your nicknames?

Peace and Grace.

Tony

I Knew You

Jeremiah 1:4-9

 

4 The word of the LORD came to me, saying,


5
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
       before you were born I set you apart;
       I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

 6 “Ah, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.”

 7 But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.

 9 Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “Now, I have put my words in your mouth.

 

This was my devotional reading for yesterday. The main idea here is that God knew us before we were even formed in the womb. It speaks to how valuable we are to God and how His love for us transcends the boundaries of physical existence. It’s a heavy thought for sure but the take away is that every human being has intrinsic value due to the fact that before our existence God was mindful of us and providentially created us for a purpose.

The more I am able to grasp this idea of God’s mindfulness of humanity the more I understand Matthew 22:36-39. In this passage Jesus is being questioned as to what the greatest commandment is. He tells the Pharisees that the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind (v. 37)”. Additionally, Jesus says that after loving God we should love our neighbor as we love ourselves (v. 39).  To me the concept of love is based on the ideal that the object of love has value. We are challenged to love God because He created us and found value in His creation and loved us first. Consequentially, we are therefore challenged to love each other precisely because God created us and what God finds valuable we should also.

I struggle sometimes to remember the value God places on us and the commandment of Jesus to love. I am truly sorry for anyone I have hurt because of personal selfishness and short-sightedness and ask for forgiveness. I am thankful for the grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus and all other aspects of our Creator that demonstrates His love for us. My hope and prayer is that by God’s grace I would learn to value humanity like He does and to love only the way he can empower me to do.

Peace and Grace.

Tony