God’s Limiting Factor

I can hear the Reformed Theologians now: You Can’t Limit God. God is supreme. God is sovereign. God does what He wants to do without regard to man, beast, or nature.

But this Reflection is not about Calvinism versus Arminianism, or the misunderstood and misnamed Sovereignty-versus-Grace controversy; so let’s put those arguments aside.

I propose that humans are the only factor in limiting what God will do in our own lives. Not what God CAN do, but what He WILL do. Why? Are we superior to God? Absolutely not! Is God sovereign? Yes, absolutely!

God can side-step mankind when He wants to, and He often does. No one, including Lucifer, can thwart God’s ultimate plan. However, Scripture makes it clear that God does not mandate our lifestyle. We are not robots; therefore, God does not commandeer man’s will. God would receive no honor or glory if He programmed us to worship Him. Instead, He programmed us to be worshippers – but it’s our decision whom or what we will worship.

As I obey God, I can accomplish my part of His will on earth. He directs me in the decisions I make and the direction I go. But if I disobey Him, He does NOT direct me. He may direct other situations to guide me back to where He wants me, but it’s up to me to cooperate. God is omniscient: there’s no doubt about it. And since God already knows what I will do or not do, He already knows what He will do or not do regarding my life.

Scripture makes it clear that God hates sin; therefore, God does not make me disobey Him. But neither does He make me obey Him. Obedience is my decision. All through Scripture, and with assistance from the Holy Spirit, God implores man to listen to Him, to obey Him, to follow His leading. Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” That statement alone reveals our freedom of choice, and reveals that God does not make the choice for us.

Is God stressed out about my disobedience? Heavens, no. God is bigger than that.

God’s imploring or pleading with us is not because of His inadequacy, but for our benefit. God is encouraging us to grow in our relationship with Him so that we can cooperate with Him in fulfilling our portion of His plan both here on earth and throughout eternity. Yes: God has plans for us!

Genesis 1:26A says, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness ….” In that regard, God gave man a say-so about how he (man) will live.

Deuteronomy 28:1-14 spells out the blessings God promised Israel if they would obey Him, and verses 15-29 spell out the problems they would encounter if they deserted or rebelled against God. It identifies our freedom of choice without God’s intervention. But it also shows that God strongly desires us to obey Him.

Joshua 24:15 further clarifies it: “Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. (NASB)”

Then Deuteronomy 30:19 gives the conclusion: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants.”

Do you see it? God is clearly telling man to make a choice. You might ask, “So, what’s your point?”

You are the only person in the universe who can affect the quality of God’s interaction in your life. Therefore, you are the only one who can limit your relationship with God. Others may battle you, interfere with you, try to stop your progress in various ways. Others may hurt you, persecute you, belittle you, slander you, and so forth. Although God knows if and when that will happen, none of that can hinder your relationship with Almighty God if you don’t let it.

Not even Lucifer has the authority to control or guide you.

It is your response to people or reaction to those situations that affect your relationship with the Lord – either positive or negative – and that determines how God will interact with you.

God will not mandate your reaction, and you cannot react properly without His help. It is a team effort. So in every situation in life, no matter the circumstances, learn to look to the Lord to see how you should respond.

How God will use you in heaven depends on how you cooperate with Him here on earth. So choose Life. Choose Christ and live.

Memory & Mental Health

In 2018, Carol & I were in Young Harris, Georgia, at the USS Yorktown CV-5 Survivor’s Club Reunion.

The purpose of a reunion is to socialize with friends and family, help us remember an event, or to celebrate the life of a person. The original purpose of the Yorktown reunions was to give the survivors of the USS Yorktown at the Battle of Midway (June 3-7, 1942) opportunities to share memories of life on board the ship – including experiences of the hell that erupted during battle – as well as memories of life’s experiences after the war.

Dad was stationed on the Yorktown from 1939 to June of 1942. In 1953 dad reentered the US Navy as a chaplain, and after retirement became chaplain of the CV-5 survivor’s club. I had the privilege of attending several reunions with dad and enjoyed hearing the ‘war-stories’ the men told.

Although most of the Yorktown veterans endured horrific experiences during the bombing, strafing, and torpedoing, those who freely shared their memories with others suffered much less mental anguish about it. The freedom to talk about the events often reduces PTSD. Visiting memorials and sharing memories with others is therapeutic, and aids in positive mental health which, in turn, can remove the need for long-term counseling.

Years ago, a man racing a 595-pound, 1200cc Kawasaki motorcycle at 95 mph plowed broadside into a Datsun (predating the Nissan) that our son, Ron, was driving. The wreck splintered the bike, killed the biker, destroyed the Datsun, and sent our kids to the hospital.

Ron was 16 years old and I didn’t want an emotional scar to develop, so I encouraged him to talk about what he experienced. As Ron initially related everything he remembered about the accident, we took many pictures of the aftermath; and every day for two weeks, I asked him to talk about it. At first, it was difficult. Then we discussed the event several times a week for a month. He relived, analyzed, and discussed the incident until he could narrate the event objectively – without emotional pain

The result? He has clear memories of the event and is sad about it, but he has no emotional scars and no mental trauma to overcome.

Those who will not talk about or share their feelings should at least write them down. Write out your experiences in as much detail as you can.

A good friend up north was having severe marital problems, but he would not violate his vows and did not want to hurt the children. Not willing to talk about it to anyone, he quietly, secretly, and in great detail, wrote his anxieties, emotions, bitterness, and frustrations as letters to himself. After writing each letter, he read it to himself – sometimes tearfully and in pain – then sealed it in an envelope and hid it. Each week he sealed another envelope, and never opened any of them again. Although he didn’t share the letters or his feelings with anyone else, he continually asked God to help him.

After several years he overcame the problems that plagued him and he was healed. He didn’t forget the problems. In fact, refusing to bury or hide them, he acknowledged his emotional struggles and communicated to God about it all. Then he asked the Lord to help him forgive his wife.

The situation improved and years later he died a happily-married man. As a side note: his wife didn’t change much. It was the process of opening up and releasing the problems – and forgiving her – that enabled him to accept his wife as she was and receive his healing.

Sharing memories with others can release emotional pressure and help maintain or regain positive mental health. But be sensitive to others. Don’t badger or bore them. Be willing to listen as well as to speak.

Forgiving and not holding grudges, and talking about problems in a positive manner, is similar to disinfecting a wound: the memory bank is cleansed and emotions are healed.

But also consider Philippians 4:6-7; “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (NLT)

So spend time with family and friends, develop good memories as you enjoy life. Your happy memories will be one of your most important blessings in later life.

Truth Must Prevail

“With your expertise with words, why didn’t you become a lawyer?”

I’ve been asked that question often and the answer is simple. But first, let’s review the historical American judicial concept.

  1. Innocent until proven guilty. The first reference I could find to that phrase is from the Law Reports of the Supreme Court of Ohio in 1835 that says, “The law presumes all innocent of crime until proven guilty.” Americans wanted to prevent rule by emotion and/or prejudice. And the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution (1868) grants all citizens – including former slaves – equal protection of the laws. We wanted to assure that ALL American citizens were treated equally and fairly.
  2. Everyone gets a fair trial. Governments in the old countries gave preferential treatment to nobility and wealthy people. But we’ve declared that a defendant will be tried by jury consisting of peers in the same locale who desire truth to prevail. This fair-trial principle assures that time is permitted to gather evidence, that truth-seeking lawyers are available to represent both sides, and for justice to prevail.
  3. Justice will prevail. Whether by judge or jury, we want the innocent to be free from any legal retribution, to receive adequate restitution, and the guilty to face the consequences of his/her crime. Justice is the administration of law, the determination of right and wrong according to a standard of truth. And a standard is not variable; it is solid, fixed, immovable.

A legal standard assures equality in the three points listed above because it downplays emotion and over-rides prejudice.

Now let’s review current practices within our judicial system.

Lawyers play games with both defendants and victims. While it is true that a defendant should be represented by a legally astute person (lawyer), the defending lawyers often cover up truth in an attempt to prove the person is innocent. This is intentional. They are trying to do their job. Also, the prosecuting lawyers tend to go overboard in demonizing the defendant in order to gain the greatest ruling for his/her client. On both sides, truth is not the issue: word games are employed and winning the case is the prize.

In order to play the game adequately, the standard of law is set aside. Defendants are often tried outside the locale in which the crime was committed; and as much as possible, jurors are chosen if they know nothing of the case, then are told how they must judge. In other words, jurors are often not free to judge according to the crime.  

Sometimes as the defending attorney sees that he is losing the case, he will employ the procedural rule: You missed this step or the police did that wrong, therefore, my client should go free. Other times the the lawyers intentionally make either the accused or the accuser the target of the judicial system.

What happened to the standard of law? Or, you may ask, what IS the standard of law?

A legal standard is a code that is a systematic and comprehensive statement of laws. The code of Hammurabi dating back to 1755 BC is one of the oldest. The Ten Commandments were given to Moses around 1450 BC, and these are foundational to the Bible. The Roman Empire based their law on the Law of the Twelve Tables of 451 BC (Lex XII Tabularum). Of course, every empire and major nation had or has their legal code.

The United States of America based our legal system on the Bible. It is a Judeo-Christian system with overtones of Hammurabi, Greece, Rome, and England intertwined. And we thrived as a nation as long as we lived by that standard.

Why didn’t I become a lawyer? Our judicial system is no longer based on the standard of law, but flounders on the floating quagmire of relativism and argumentation. Truth is not the focus and is often ignored in the fight to win the case. I strongly reject that judicial farce.

To further complicate matters, morality is also set aside. Right and wrong are decided on the prevailing winds of relativism – not on Hammurabi, the Ten Commandments, The Twelve Tables, or the Holy Bible. Men and women (judges and Congress) over-ride the standard – the Holy Word of God – but I openly establish my ethics on the Bible and on the teachings of Jesus Christ. Insisting on “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help me God,” I wouldn’t last long as a lawyer.

But take heart: Jesus will re-establish truth and law when He returns. And He WILL return.

Itching Ears, Misplaced Devotion

Carol and I know many people who are dis-satisfied with church-life. They want to go deeper into the Word of God. They want to get into the mind of Christ so that they can know God’s thoughts on every issue, but they think of church services as on the level of kindergarten. They place themselves on a higher plane than the Church and look down on others.

However, when I look at their lives, I find many of them to be spiritually arrogant. Many of them do weird things – in the name of Christ, of course. I am reminded of Second Timothy 4:3-4 that says, “The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”

One Sunday evening, I watched Pastor Frank tell a parishioner, “If you believe and stick your head out the church window and yell ‘Jesus’ three times as loud as you can, you will be healed.” The woman obeyed and Frank victoriously pronounced her healed. When she died a month later, Pastor Frank merely intoned, “She didn’t have faith.”

I watched Pastor Carey announce to his congregation, “If you believe, and sign the book of life in the back of the church, you’ll never die. No matter how long Jesus delays His return, you’ll live until He comes back.” With people lining up to sign his book, I asked my father, “When Brother Carey dies, that will disprove his theory, won’t it?” Dad responded, “No, son. His followers will just think the pastor didn’t have faith.” Brother Carey died in 1993 and people continue to propagate his fables.

One day while praying, Jack had an experience with the Lord that could have changed his life. Jack was excited and wrote down every detail so he would never forget it; and every time visitors came, Jack excitedly read the experience to them. One day a minister he hadn’t seen for some years came to visit, and Jack went to his room to get the document. The visiting minister wondered what happened when he heard Jack yell, “Oh no! The rats ate my experience!”

Yes, the rodents found their way into the desk and destroyed the document. However, Jack had lost the reality of his experience to spiritual rats long before. Why? He placed his affection on an experience rather than on the Lord of the experience.

Let’s back up for a minute. I am from a Pentecostal background and have been affiliated with various denominations. I’ve also been dis-satisfied with church at times. I always want to go deeper into the Word of God, and I want to know God’s thoughts on every issue. So, what’s the difference?

Many of the folks to whom I referred place their faith in spiritual experiences, spiritual knowledge, and spiritual gifts; but that emphasis tends to overshadow Jesus. Scripture tells us to exalt Jesus, the resurrected Christ, the Giver of the experiences, knowledge, and gifts. That’s where I am. There is a world of difference here. If we are devoted to or focused on Jesus as we study the Bible, He will help us gain the knowledge, experiences, and gifts as He sees appropriate. But our priorities will be correct.

Some friends remind me that First Corinthians 12:31 says “Earnestly desire the best gifts.” They think that’s an exhortation to go after gifts that appeals to them. But I respond, “You are seeking the gifts while side-stepping the Giver of the gifts. That’s backwards. Instead, that verse encourages us to utilize the gift that is most appropriate for the situation, for there is NO spiritual gift that is more important than any other. And if we seek God’s input, He will grant us the wisdom we need as we respond to any and every situation.”

I’ve seen people healed of terminal diseases and seen other miracles take place. But I understand the purpose of miracles and spiritual experiences. Yes, they benefit man, but they are supposed to help us focus our attention on the Lord, to honor and bring glory to God.

First Corinthians 2:16b tells us, “We have the mind of Christ.” That is, Jesus will reveal His thoughts as we remain true to Scripture and turn away from those who exalt either themselves or their ideas.

“Itching ears” generates misplaced devotion and causes us to put our faith in miracles or in experiences. Instead, we should put our faith in the Scripture and on the Lord Jesus Christ.