Relevance or Authenticity?

Several years ago, we received a calendar from the Insights For Living ministry titled: “The Dawn of a Church Awakening.” Chuck Swindoll’s caption for June was “The Church’s Attractiveness” and Chuck wrote:

I am convinced that the church doesn’t need marketing devices, worldly strategies, live entertainment, or a corporate mentality to be contagious. Not if the glory of God is the goal. Not if the growth of God’s people is in view. Rather, the church needs biblical truth taught correctly and clearly … and lived out in authenticity.

Now that’s a mouthful. I found ten themes: the Church’s nature; marketing devices; worldly strategies; entertainment; corporate mentality; God’s nature; spiritual growth; biblical truth; ministry; and reality.

The two central themes around which the other eight revolve are the Church’s nature and God’s nature. And the nature of the church directly affects how the world views the nature of God. So, how is the church doing?

For over fifty years I’ve heard “the church needs to be relevant” in order to influence the world for Christ. I might agree with that statement, but I need to see what it means first.

Relevant has various meanings, but the current meaning is pertinent to the matter at hand.

So is the church being relevant to the world? Yes. But we have a problem. The little-known church motto is: “The Bible is our standard for faith and practice.” That means our faith, lifestyle, and actions should conform to Scripture. However what we find is the church is conforming to the world.

The world is on a fast-track heading away from Jesus Christ. Those in an ungodly lifestyle have no intention of being influenced by the church, but the church wants to be relevant. Therefore the church adopts much of the world’s music, entertainment preferences, activities, and behaviors in order to promote identification. But as the world continues its trajectory away from God, the church, still wanting to be relevant, continues toward the world.

Do you see what’s happening? Many in the church, desiring to influence people for Christ, identify with non-Christians by becoming like them. Recently I heard a member of a Christian rock band say, “We try to be on the level of the main-stream artists.” And that’s the downfall of the church as it becomes relevant: many in the church look and act like non-Christians. Therefore, they begin living like non-Christians.

One New Mexico pastor asked a young man, “Would you like to become a Christian? God will accept you just the way you are.” The response was, “Sure, man; why not? There really is no difference between your church and my group anyway. I’ll accept your Jesus.” The truth was: he did not accept Christ; he merely joined a church.

Many in the church dress, act, talk, and live like the world, thus, blurring the distinction between church and world. That’s why many non-Christians don’t see the need to turn away from their detrimental or harmful lifestyles.

For fifty years the church’s priority has been to identity with the sinful world rather than promote the Glory of God through Jesus Christ. A youth pastor I know takes several youth groups to pagan rock concerts where drugs and alcohol flow. When I challenged him about it he said, “Pastor Linzey, it’s the same music as Christian rock, but we tune out the words so it is okay. We like to use this kind of music in our churches but use Christian lyrics. That makes the music Christian. Also, after we get the kid’s attention, we can teach them about Christ.”

That sounded good, but I learned later that if he stopped paying for their rock concert tickets, they stopped attending his youth meetings. So, where is his authenticity?

A problem is that we are confusing concern with identification; and that degenerates to watering down the Gospel. We also need to understand that religious activity often blocks the voice of God. And if there’s no observable difference between church and world, we are preaching the wrong gospel.

Chuck Swindoll is right: In order to change our world for the better, in order to truly influence people for Jesus Christ, we must live authentic Christian lives.

Death Is Not Final

I read an article many years ago titled: “Was Jesus the First Psychiatrist?” I think it’s worth reading. The author mentioned that there are “300 or so [mental] disorders” that plague mankind; and discusses what he sees as the similarity of Godly teachings and the teachings of psychiatry. 

Please remember that where all Scripture is correct (2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.”), not all conclusions in the field of psychiatry and psychology are correct.

I thought long on the following statement: “People suffer to the extent that they are removed from the truth.”

That is partly true, and the reason it stuck in my mind is a conversation I had earlier with a very close friend in the southwest. His wife was nearing the end of her life, and Chuck was experiencing anger and frustration. When I mentioned that facing the truth promotes emotional healing, he blurted out, “I don’t want the truth! I want my wife to live!” I asked him if he wanted to face reality. He exclaimed “NO!”

I understood; his precious wife meant the world to him, and he didn’t want to lose her. Later, in deep depression, Chuck said several times regarding his wife’s condition, “It’s hopeless.”

Dr. Charles Allen (United Methodist minister, deceased) who received an honorary doctorate from John Brown University, and is author of “God’s Psychiatry” said, “When you say a situation or a person is hopeless, you are slamming the door in the face of God.” However, people must not give up on life, but neither should we demand what God is not giving.

Meditate on those statements.

Chuck had given me the freedom to talk bluntly with him. He knew that I loved him unconditionally, and I gave him the freedom to vent his frustrations at me without fear of reprisal or ill feelings. And I went to be with him when his wife left this life.

Later that day Chuck expressed his appreciation for my helping him to face reality, and said, “A load has been lifted from my shoulders; thank you for helping me accept the truth.” And that reflects another statement from Dr. Allen: “The mind is like the body. It can be wounded. Sorrow is a wound. It cuts deeply; but sorrow can be a clean wound and can heal unless something gets into the wound, such as bitterness, self-pity, or resentment.”

Bitterness, self-pity, and resentment oppose faith in God. I continued working with Chuck: a loving, passionate man with a tendency toward depression.

People must reawaken what they were born with: the God-given, inexplicable, ultimately undefeatable capacity to move in the direction of their own interests, abilities, beliefs and dreams. That’s why the image of Christ is such a powerful one.

It’s not wrong to ask the Lord to heal someone. In fact, it’s healthy and necessary to have a living, vital relationship with Jehovah-Raphah – the Lord who heals. Doctors, psychiatrists, and psychologists help, but God alone can ultimately heal the body and mind.

We must all remember that until Jesus returns, physical death is part of life; and for the Christian, death must not be feared for it is the door to heaven. Psalm 90:10 tells us that our lifespan will be an average of 70-80 years although individual lifetimes vary. My father lived to be eighty-nine, his father lived to ninety-nine, and my mother left this life at the age of 97. But until Jesus returns, we all will leave this life. 

Chuck was facing the reality of his wife’s immanent departure. Was the situation truly hopeless? The answer was a resounding “No.” Death is not the end of the story. Those who trust God with their lives will be given eternal life. 

Chuck’s wife left this earth, but accepting the truth had set him free. Was there sorrow? Yes, but not as others sorrow. 1 Thessalonians 4:13–14 says, “Brothers and sisters, we want you to know about those Christians who have died so you will not be sad, as others who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and that he rose again. So, because of him, God will raise with Jesus those who have died.”

Chuck will see his wife again.

WisdomBuilt® Marriages

And God said, “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make him a helpmate.” (Genesis 2:18)

Years ago, that perplexed me because, since God is all-knowing, He knew that man would need a helper, a friend, a companion. So, why the comment? I think it was because God wanted Adam to realize that he (Adam) needed a companion. God allowed Adam to explore the world, look at and name the animals, prepare his own meals, etc. – all the while with no human to talk to.” Being alone is no fun.

Making another man for Adam, or giving him animals for companionship, would still leave Adam incomplete, and could never fulfill God’s plan on earth. So, God made a woman for Adam, and harmony reigned throughout the Garden. God and Adam communed every evening, Adam and Eve communed every day, and relationships were complete in all directions.

I know the jokes and stories about Adam’s problems starting when Eve arrived on the scene, but ignore them. Romans 5:14 explicitly informs us that Adam caused the problem. A major consequence was broken and disjointed relationships have plagued mankind – therefore, marriage – ever since. But how can we restore marriage to God’s design?

My wife, Carol, says, “Marriage is made in heaven, but it comes in a kit that must be put together on earth.” She is correct.

Louis and Leah Houston of Siloam Springs, Arkansas told me before Louis passed away, “Our 58-year marriage is based on several factors. We started out as friends, and it developed into love. We share the same basic faith. We highly respect each other, and are always ready to help each other. And we discuss major decisions because a dual-perspective gives greater depth-perception.”

These are excellent pointers on how to develop wholesome, proper communications; and, therefore, how to develop a wholesome, fulfilling marriage.

Watching portions of the Olympics some time ago, I was amazed at the skill exhibited by the figure-skaters. Their performance was a beautiful expression of the art of skating. Several fell, but they got up and finished the presentation. How could they execute their art with such masterful technique and style? They studied and practiced. Falling didn’t deter them – they kept at it. That’s the method we use in mastering any art form, including the art of marriage.

Marriage is fundamentally based on observation and communication, and is an art that must be learned. One concept found in Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1989) is Key #5 which says, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” That’s a Biblical principle that instructs us to put others first.

Another concept from Ken Boges & Ron Braund (Understanding How Others Misunderstand, Moody Publishers, 1995) is that people think and see differently. Therefore, in order to respond to others in a loving way, they said, “We need some basic facts about [their] perception, motivation, needs, and values.” Observation and communication are the keys.

My Brother, Dr. Paul Linzey, and his wife, Dr. Linda Linzey, have been hosting marriage seminars for years. Paul wrote the book WisdomBuilt Biblical Principles of Marriage (EA Books Publishing, 2019) that goes along with the seminars. These seminars are based on Building People – Building Relationships. Paul joyfully says, “Stay Together – Stay Happy!”

Several of the chapter titles are: On the Same Team, Heaven on Earth, Sex & Sensuality, and Now You’re Talkin’.

On page 85, Paul says, “Do you feel safe with each other? Do you feel safe confiding in each other? … Some couples live with the fear that their words will be used against them, so they’re always walking on egg shells. Friends, that’s no way to live as a couple.”

We need to learn to implement God’s design for marriage, and on page 161, Paul says, “…WisdomBuilt Biblical Principles of Marriage will foster a climate and a context for creating unity, emotional safety, and peace. You can establish an atmosphere of love that is noticeable to everyone who enters your home.”

So whether we are engaged and considering marriage, or are celebrating our 70th anniversary, we all need to work at improving our communication skills; therefore, improving our marriage or prospective marriage. As we redefine our roles, marriage will take on a renewed, satisfying, and completed meaning. Remember: our spouse is God’s gift to us.

With God’s help, be the best partner that you can be; that will enhance the prospect of your spouse being the best he/she can be.

(WisdomBuilt® is the Mentoring Ministry of Dr. Paul Linzey. Look up www.paullinzey.com. You can order WisdomBuilt Biblical Principles of Marriage on Amazon.com.) I highly recommend the book.

Jumping at Shadows

Years ago we had a kitten that developed a special interest in life. It did the “cat thing” of chasing strings, rubbing against our legs, curling up in our laps, climbing trees, and the rest. But this critter developed the joy of jumping at and chasing shadows.

If we walked through the yard during the day or into the room at night with the lights on, and he saw our shadow, he immediately pounced on and wildly chased it, trying to nail it with his claws until the shadow disappeared. He then stopped and looked around as if to ask, “Where did it go?”

His favorite version of the game was trying to catch a shadow on the wall. You should have seen him! He would sit at the base of the wall, watching a shadow that Michael (our son) cast on the wall. Michael moved his hand up & down and in various directions, and the cat slowly – intently – focused on the ethereal object. He crouched low, quivering with pent-up energy. Then he EXPLODED straight up the wall as he grabbed at the phantom object. He did this repeatedly for five or six minutes until he tired himself out. But several hours later, he was ready for another go at it. What a critter!

Marvel (the cat) didn’t seem to know that he would never nab this prey. He didn’t know that his objective was not attainable, and he expended time and enormous amounts of energy in the process. Watching the feline focusing on and striving for something that was not attainable is entertaining and elicited gales of laughter from us. I think God revealed His sense of humor when He created cats.

But do you know that many people do the same thing? They sit at a mental wall and focus on objectives that are not attainable. They focus on what SHOULD be, or MIGHT have been. If only I had more money. If only I had married someone else. If only I had a different job. If only I were good-looking or more popular. Hundreds of If Onlys.

They also focus on what others might be thinking of them.

That reminds me of the shy student sitting alone. When the instructor asked the student if he needed assistance, the young man said, “No, but I’m wondering what those guys are thinking of me.” The instructor gently responded with, “You might be wasting your time, son; they don’t even know you are here. Why don’t you go join them?”

How about you? Do you worry and wish things were different in your life? Worry will never change anything, and changing the past is impossible; so you are wasting time and expending enormous amounts of energy. That energy is needed for the present, and worrying blocks our creativity and impedes progress. Why not use that pent-up energy to do something? Make a change now. You should remember that many times the most important change we can make is our own attitude.

In 1973 I did not like my job. Let me rephrase that: I enjoyed being an appliance repairman, but I really did not like my employer! I jumped at every opportunity imaginable trying to get another job, but to no avail. No other job opened up for me. I didn’t know that the problem was NOT my employer – it was my attitude. I didn’t realize that I had become a proud, arrogant person; and trying to change employers while exhibiting a bad or poor attitude was like jumping at shadows.

One Sunday after the church service, I spent a lengthy time in prayer. The Holy Spirit was reminding me of my attitudes, errors, faults, sins (call them what you want), and I was repenting. I did not spend time consciously changing my attitude; but when my self-consciousness decreased and my God-consciousness increased, my attitude changed as a by-product. That shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Already a Christian, I became a different person: I had stopped doing things my way and accepted God’s way. And guess what? I learned to deeply appreciate my employer. And I was surprised when I was offered another job several months later with greater potential.

Let’s stop our futile efforts of jumping at shadows. Let’s live in the present and pursue reality. That begins with reducing our self-centeredness, increasing our Christ-centeredness, deepening our relationship with God, and allowing Him to guide us. It also enhances joyful interaction with our family.

How’s Your Attitude?

The longer I live, the more I realize how important our attitude is. Our attitude is more important than our past, our circumstance in life, education, skills, good looks (or bad), and more important than what people think of us. Our attitude can determine the success or failure of a church, business, or home.

We can’t always control what happens to us, but we can always choose our attitude; therefore, our responses.

Charles Swindoll on his Insight For Living broadcast said, “I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me, and 90% how I react to the circumstances.” I agree with him, and that’s why problems seldom trouble me. (However, contrary to popular opinion, I do get bothered sometimes. That’s why I, also, need encouragement.)

Some years ago, I read of a man who received life-threatening injuries when someone robbed his store and shot him. As Jerry was being prepared for emergency surgery, he noticed the grim look on the doctor’s face. When the doctor asked Jerry if he was allergic to anything, in his dangerously weakened condition Jerry mumbled, “Yes. I am allergic to – bullets. Operate on me as though I will live.”

At first the doctor smiled, then laughed and said, “I’ll do my best for you, but it is your golden attitude that will bring you through.”

Yes, Jerry did make a full recovery, and his attitude mirrored another Swindoll quote: “The remarkable thing is, we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. And attitude governs the way you perceive the world, and the way the world perceives you.”IMG_0091

Do you know how your attitude works for or against you? Very simply: When a person is happy, certain endorphins and hormones are secreted which produce clear thinking, enhance pleasure, and reduce physical pain. When a person is upset, other endorphins and hormones are secreted which enhance anxiety and increase pain.

Years ago, I encountered a man who harshly confronted me. Afterwards, one of our daughters asked, “Daddy, how did you keep from blowing up when that man attacked you like that?” I answered, “Oh, he wasn’t upset with me. He was ticked off about something else.”

At that, she asked, “Is that one of your mind-games?” Laughing, I said, “It might be, or it might be the result of a decision I made to not let people bother me. Then I leave the results up to God. I know He can take care of me, and that’s my primary reason for having a good attitude.”

A good attitude is a decision I make based on my faith in Jesus Christ. And I have to make the decision several times every day.

When I was told that there are many factors which contribute to bad attitudes, I said, “The difficult part is, most of us have been programmed as a child to respond in a negative manner. We also are born in sin with an innate selfish mindset. So we start life with a double-whammy that we must overcome: 1) we must learn to overcome the negative, and 2) we must ask God to forgive us for our own sin and help us to become like Jesus. Then we have a foundation from which to work. It isn’t always easy, but it can be done.”

So, how do we generate and keep a good attitude?

4 generation Linzeys0016bMy father taught me, “Son, you think and feel the way you dress and act. So purposely dress nicely, make correct decisions, keep happy thoughts in your mind, and live for the Lord.” Even though I’ve made mistakes, that counsel has served me well.

A poor attitude generates low self-esteem; but a good attitude with enthusiasm brightens your life, and brightens the attitudes of others around you. So treat others the way you would like to be treated, and don’t be concerned if they don’t reciprocate. Either way you will be a healthier, happier person.

Psalm 42:5 says, “Why am I so sad? Why am I so troubled? I will put my hope in God, and once again I will praise him, my savior and my God.” Also, Psalm 103:2 says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and don’t forget the benefits of serving God.”

So believe in, and actively trust in God. Loving God and loving people are the foundation for good attitudes. That reminds me of the chorus of a song Bill Gaither wrote:

Loving God, loving each other; making music with my friends.

Loving God, loving each other; and the story never ends.

Intolerance? By Whom?

The subject of intolerance comes up often. Emotions sometimes get in the way and people lose sight of reality. But what is intolerance?

Synonyms are: dogmatism, bigotry, narrow-mindedness, sectarianism, etc. The root is tolerate, and the widest definition is: to permit, allow the existence of. Therefore, intolerance in the public arena today is the unwillingness to consider other ideas; not allowing beliefs that differ from your own. So, who are the culprits?

Some folks insist that only Christians are intolerant, but that is not true. Political, ethnic, and religious intolerance has existed for more than five millennia; and there is a monumental misunderstanding of who is being tolerant or intolerant today.

Many pagan religions have been and are intolerant of Judaism and Christianity. Misguided Christians have been intolerant of others – even of other Christians. Japan was intolerant of China. Germany was intolerant of Jews. Many Democrats and Republicans are intolerant of each other. Islam (supposedly the religion of peace and submission to God) is hotly intolerant of anyone they consider an infidel – including Moslems of the other Islamic sects. Some atheists are intolerant of Christian symbols, such as a cross and the 10 Commandments. Members of the LGBT community are intolerant of Bible-centered Christianity and Christian ethics.

However, the governments of western nations, including America, are giving political recognition to homosexuality and the LGBT rights movements, while in many instances they are denying the right of Christians to practice their faith. In that sense, these governments are tolerant of the gay rights movement, but have joined the Moslems and others in becoming intolerant of Christianity.

Our American Congress is supporting the “rights” of non-Christians to talk against Christianity, but in some cases is denying the same freedom of speech to the Christian community. That means our Congress is tolerant of the gay-rights movement, but is becoming intolerant of Christianity.

When a Christian quotes the bible — not just his/her own viewpoint — concerning God’s thoughts on sexuality, marriage, and man-woman relationships, the gay community cries bigotry, prejudice, intolerance! But when the gay community protests against our traditional American culture – and hatefully embarks on Christian-bashing, cursing, etc. – the culprits are often ignored because our traditional American culture is becoming tolerant of non-biblical ideology, but intolerant of Biblical ideology. Why? The homosexual/gay lifestyle is protected under the erroneously named: “hate-crime” law.

Who is intolerant? Generally, those getting their feathers ruffled and crying INTOLERANCE! are the intolerant ones.

Take another look. In Matthew 5:39 Jesus teaches if anyone insults you, ignore it – turn the other cheek. Don’t fight about it. In Matthew 5:44 and Luke 6:35, Jesus said to love your enemies (and those who disagree with you). In Matthew 5:10-12 the result of Jesus’ teaching is that we should not even fight against those who attack or persecute us for our faith. Therefore, true Christians are the tolerant people, and it is Christian ethics that made us a strong nation. Christianity is the force that allows the intolerant people to decry Christianity.

One of the concepts that helped the United States become the nation of choice is the first amendment to the US Constitution: freedom of speech. It “prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech….” But because of sinful nature, we know this freedom cannot be absolute. Example: overt threats – from whomever – on our person and property should be curtailed.

But our government has violated its own rule. The government HAS made laws respecting (limiting the exercise of) religion – specifically, Christianity – and violated the rule of free speech. Example: our government won’t allow Christianity to be presented in public schools or in many public settings; but other religions, such as Islam, Evolution, and Hinduism, are allowed public freedom of expression, and are actually promoted by the public and educational system. Free exercise of my faith IS impeded because intolerance is politically sanctioned.

True Christians understand fallible humanity; that’s why we present Christ to any and all who will listen. “Know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:32).” 

So, I repeat the question: Who is intolerant?

Those who intolerantly demand Christianity to be curtailed and Christian symbols to be removed are the intolerant ones. America, wake up, or your freedoms will be removed by those demanding one-sided tolerance.

Hear From God, and Obey Him

IMG_1791The Apostle Paul had an attitude. Whether you call him a Christian, Jew, or Roman, he was at times hard to get along with.

Naw! Wasn’t Paul gentle, compassionate, the teacher of the early church? Didn’t Paul write 13 of the 27 books in the New Testament? Didn’t Paul say in First Thessalonians 2:7, “We were gentle among you, as a nurse cherishes her children”? Paul had an attitude?

Yes he did. Let’s take a closer look at Brother Paul.

In Acts 7, Paul (then Saul) encouraged the killing of Stephen – the first Christian martyr. Paul might have called it an execution, but I call it murder. Then in Acts 9:1, “Saul was still threatening the followers of the Lord by saying he would kill them. So he went to the high priest and asked him to write letters to the synagogues [authorizing the arrest of Christians] in the city of Damascus.”

Saul was the scourge of the infant Church!

But Saul was a Pharisee and a staunch advocate of truth. Really? Yes. Although Jesus criticized some Pharisees for being hypocrites, others were unswervingly dedicated to truth. This described Saul. He was “a Pharisee of the Pharisees” – that is, he was a Pharisee and the son of a Pharisee. Pharisees were teachers of the Jewish law, and Saul pursued truth with his entire being; at times even becoming angry at those he considered to be in error.

When Saul became a Christian, his name eventually changed but his character didn’t change. He remained consistent: adamant for the faith, but now unwavering for Jesus Christ.

We also notice something else. At first Paul didn’t fully understand that God has different plans for different folk. It took him some time to comprehend what he eventually wrote in 1 Corinthians 12 about each person having a place in God’s plan. This takes us to Acts 15:36.

Paul and Barnabas were ready to start their second mission trip. Disdaining Mark for previously deserting them, Paul resolutely refused to allow Mark to go again. But Barnabas wanted Mark (his nephew or cousin) to go. The disagreement turned into a major blow-up, so Paul and Barnabas – neither one understanding God’s larger plan – petulantly parted company.

This kind of thing also happens in the Church today. Someone gets a direction from the Lord and thinks he sees the full picture. Then when someone else hears form the Lord a little differently, the first person thinks the second person is totally wrong. They discuss it and/or argue over it, and often part company. Ministry teams are split, the church or even denominations are split. That is a human (sinful) reaction, and has caused problems throughout the history of the church.

But what we should do is stop and pray about it; think about our options. We need to realize that no one human sees the entire picture. This is why Paul eventually wrote 1 Corinthians 12: the eye needs the ear; the ear needs the nose; the eye, ear, and nose (and the rest) need the baby toe. (By the way, the baby toe provides stability while walking and tip-toeing.)

If Paul had remained calm and asked the Lord about it, he could have realized that God had a different plan for the three of them. What happened next? We find TWO ministry teams going out: Barnabas and Mark, and Paul and Silas.

The name Barnabas means “son of encouragement or consolation” although some say it means “son of a prophet.” It fits either way. And Mark? He is John Mark who later wrote the Gospel of Mark. The separate ministry teams were God’s plan! Ministry multiplication – not church torn apart!

We all have a role to fill, and we must find our place in God’s plan. The Holy Spirit will lead us if we pay attention. We all need each other. Each Christian needs the others. Each minister needs the church members and needs fellowship with ministers in his own and in other denominations.

When someone challenges your plan or appears to be challenging your pet project, don’t panic, freak out, or get upset. Pray about it. Maybe God is trying to show you a larger view of the picture, or give you another piece of the puzzle. You will need that larger view or puzzle piece to fulfill your mission in life. God empowers His children to fulfill their part of the plan. So, settle down. Pray about it. Do your part. Hear from God, and obey Him.

What Do You Own?

Several decades ago when I was asked what I owned, I had to stop and think. I began recounting my stuff: lawn mower, chain saw, pickup truck, hand tools.… But I didn’t get very far when the missionary interrupted me and said, “You apparently didn’t understand the question.”

He asked again, slowly: “What do you own?” He said he would let me think on it for a while and walked away.

I never had the opportunity to discuss it with him again, but I pondered that question for weeks before I forgot it. However, many years later that question re-surfaced in my mind and I came up with some interesting conclusions.

The verb to own means: to possess; hold as personal property; keep control over; maintain mastery. That’s an interesting concept, and I totally revised my philosophy of ownership.

So, what do you consider to be your property? Make a mental list, and I’ll help by naming several items: clothing, car, surfboard, animals, land, business. What else came to your mind? But do you really own these things? Read the definition again.

Can you truthfully maintain mastery over something if someone can take it from you? No. If you really OWN something, no one can take it from you. Pause and think about that for a minute. Stop paying taxes on your paid-off property and find out who thinks they own it.

Now, let’s consider permanent ownership.

In Leviticus 25:23 God said, “The land really belongs to me, so you can’t sell it for all time. You are only foreigners and travelers living for a while on my land.” Remember: God created it, so the land is His.

Friends, in reality, not even the government owns anything because God maintains mastery over it all. But He requires us to be good stewards (manager, guardian, administrator) of His property.

In Psalms 50:10-11 God said, “Every animal of the forest is already mine. The cattle on a thousand hills are mine. I know every bird on the mountains, and every living thing in the fields is mine.”

Titus 1:7-9 says, “As God’s managers, overseers must not be guilty of doing wrong, being selfish, or becoming angry quickly. They must not drink too much wine, like to fight, or try to get rich by cheating others. Overseers must be ready to welcome guests, love what is good, be wise, live right, and be holy and self-controlled. They must hold on to the trustworthy word just as we teach it, because overseers can help people by applying correct teaching ….”

So God gives us abilities, talents, skills, and property; but we erroneously focus on them and too often think we own them. Friends, we don’t even own our abilities. God loans them to us, but we can lose them in a moment by accident or sickness.

How about money? In Matthew 20:8-15, God said, “I can do what I want with my money.” Even money is not ours: ever hear of a stock-market crash?

How about wisdom? In Luke 21:15, God said, “I will give you the wisdom to say things that none of your enemies will be able to stand against or prove wrong.” God owns wisdom, and God owns you. So, is there anything in the world that we can claim as our own? Yes: we are supposed to own (possess, control) our emotions. The Biblical term is temperance.

The point I am trying to make is this: you own nothing except your thoughts, your will and your emotions. God did not create robots or automatons; He created and owns people. And He expects us to use our thoughts, will, and emotions to bless and honor Him.

Let’s add another item: we own our responses to what happens in life. That means we are capable of controlling ourselves. No one can make you angry or make you happy. It’s your choice. YOU decide how you will respond.

Corrie ten Boom told a pastor some years ago: “Pastor, let go of all the things you think you own while you can. Otherwise, God will pry them out of your dying hands.”

There is nothing wrong with having things as long as we understand that we are only stewards of the things that we bought – with the money God helped us to earn. So, use things for their intended purpose and get the job done.

What do you own? You own your thoughts, will, emotions, and personal responses. And that sets the stage for owning a clear conscience with joy, peace, and contentment.

So, once again: What do you own?

The Ultimate Gift

Carol and I seldom attend the theater. The reason is: even though some movie houses show good films periodically, they normally precede the film with previews of gross, explicit immorality and mindless violence that lodges in our minds. Since we live for Jesus Christ, we refuse to purposely fill our mind and spirit with anything that dishonors God.

But we do at times find a DVD that we like, and — skipping the previews — we watch them several times. One of those films is called The Ultimate Gift. Not specifically a Christian movie, it is a good one that Jim Stovall (the blind author of the book) built around twelve clearly defined Biblical principles he called gifts. I’ll tell you about these gifts here with brief commentary.

  1. As the economy fluctuates, some people lose their jobs. Many others think society owes them a living and don’t want to work. Yet many gainfully employed folk put out only minimal effort in their vocation. Misguided people don’t understand the GIFT OF WORK. This story helps us to understand the value of good, honest work.
  2. Related to #1 above, many people, poor and wealthy alike, do not understand the real purpose or value of money. Some use money as a tool to gain power and prestige while others use money as a status-symbol or to “buy” friends. But money, as any instrument in the bartering system, is supposed to be merely a medium of exchange which enables us to procure the necessities of life and to help others. Jim Stovall presents us with the GIFT OF UNDERSTANDING THE VALUE OF MONEY.
  3. True friendship is a gift. You’ve heard: to have a friend, you need to be a friend. It’s true. Acquaintances come and go, sometimes on a moment’s notice. But to develop a friendship requires an investment: not of money or of material gifts, but of our time. As we give of ourselves, we receive the GIFT OF A FRIEND.
  4. My grandfather’s most advanced educational diploma was received when he graduated from the third grade. Going no further in school, he nevertheless was a very wise and educated man who attained the top position of his vocation. Early in life he realized the value of learning, and he passed the GIFT OF LEARNING to his children and grandchildren. Although formal education is valuable and necessary, true learning is a product of personal initiative and integrity – which may or may not involve higher-education.
  5. I know some folk who can’t change a tire, read a map, or stay employed. The reason is they’ve never learned to value the GIFT OF PROBLEMS. At the first sign of a problem, they cry for help and they are rescued. But those who rescue them are only dooming the person to life-long failure. The truth is: we succeed in life by learning to overcome problems.
  6. This life can be a lonely journey without loving companionship. The GIFT OF FAMILY is what helps us through life. If you have no loving, personal family ties, develop close-knit family ties at church. Love others and you’ll be loved.
  7. Proverbs 17:22 says, “A joyful heart is good like a medicine; but sadness drains your strength.” The GIFT OF LAUGHTER helps us survive and thrive as we encounter life’s troubling times. Enjoying the lighter side of life – even in the middle of problems – enables us to perceive and apply solutions to the problems.
  8. Some folk say planning a vacation is as fun as taking the trip. There is truth to that proverb. The GIFT OF DREAMS is the mother of inventions, successes, fulfillment, and trips. Allowing ourselves to dream enables us to be creative; and that makes life fun.
  9. The GIFT OF GIVING is a highly under-rated virtue. While merely receiving may enhance our unbalanced sense of self-importance, receiving without giving produced the Dead Sea. As we become a giving person, we – again – release our creative spirit and can become much more beneficial to ourselves, to society, and to the kingdom of God.
  10. Man was created to be thankful. Without a grateful attitude, we shrivel up spiritually. The GIFT OF GRATITUDE opens doors for us, and enables us to fulfill our mission in life. Gratitude flows gently alongside laughter, dreaming, and giving to make us a happy, joyful person.
  11. Everyone needs to feel special in some way, and the GIFT OF A SPECIAL DAY can bring that about. Please, take time to relax, stop work, enjoy a special treat. Do something out of your day-to-day or weekly routine. Break out of the rut.
  12. The GIFT OF LOVE is priceless. Humanity lost the ability to truly love as we left the Garden of Eden. Therefore, Jesus came to earth to redeem us. He loved us and gave Himself on the cross so that we may receive the True Ultimate Gift – LOVE – upon which the other 11 gifts rest. Learn to love others, and help others in their time of need.

Jim Stovall wrote a good story and I watch it once a year. But the True Ultimate Gift is salvation through an active relationship with our Lord, Jesus Christ. That good news is found in the Bible, and I read that every day.

Differences of Memory

“That’s not what you said before! Your memory is really getting bad, and you are always changing your story!” The disagreement had turned into a personal attack – again.

When I heard that account of the wife becoming angry at the husband’s supposed lapse of memory, I cringed. My immediate thought was, So what if he doesn’t have perfect memory? None of us do. And, why did the wife act like a tiger on the attack? Is it conceivable that her anger is a defense mechanism for her possible memory lapse?

That particular misunderstanding was regarding Scripture in John 11: Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was sick, and requested that He (Jesus) come and heal Lazarus; but Jesus waited two more days before going to Bethany. When Jesus arrived, Lazarus had been dead for four days. Jesus commanded, “Lazarus, come forth!” Some people think Jesus specified “Lazarus” so that all the other dead would not come out of their own graves.

Back to the fuss mentioned above: the wife thought the husband previously said there were others buried in the tomb with Lazarus, where the husband thought he merely mentioned the potential of other people rising from the dead. But again, so what? Does a lapse of memory – on either side – justify an attack on someone’s integrity? I don’t think so.

What is memory anyway? (Note: this article is not about Alzheimer’s.)

Memory is the process in which information is encoded, stored, and retrieved. Encoding takes place while information is received from visual, electrical, chemical, and physical stimuli. Storage, the second stage, includes maintaining information over periods of time. The third stage is the retrieval of information for conscious consideration. Some retrieval attempts may be effortless, while other attempts are difficult due to the type of information we have stored, and life’s experiences we have encountered since storing that information.

“The hippocampus, an extension of the cerebral cortex, plays a big role in storing memories, but it’s also important in recalling them.” says Ulrike Schmidt, a Head Research Coordinator, RG Leader, Managing Senior Psychiatrist at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich. Schmidt continued: “And a damaged hippocampus causes weird things to happen in the mind.”

Also, a lack of sleep often impedes memory storage; and you can’t recall what wasn’t stored.

However, as people age, a certain amount of brain atrophy – including the hippocampus – is normal. Early symptoms of hippocampal atrophy can include difficulty recalling the recent past, and can produce disorientation.

Our memories are also subject to contamination and distortion. Lawyers often fool us with suggestive questions, and false memories can easily be manufactured. And even though a woman named Jill Price became famous and inaccurately labeled as “The woman who couldn’t forget,” it has been proven that photographic memory and total recall is not 100% accurate. We all have faulty memory – some of us more than others.

Example: if five people witness an accident, we would have five differing testimonies – and all five would most-likely be at least partially correct. Nevertheless, some folk, such as Jill Price, do have excellent memory about things she continually reviews.

So, what is the key?

There is no one key. Proper nutrition, proper sleep, and especially paying attention to what you are experiencing are foundational. Your brain is where memory is stored, so take care of your brain; but that demands proper care for your entire body. The schools, training, mental disciplines, games, etc. are secondary.

Living peacefully, primarily internally, is especially important. Jesus Christ is interested in how we live because our understanding – including wisdom – determines how we mature as individuals, and how we grow in our relationship with others. A good memory aids in this endeavor. Galatians 5:22-23 briefly lists the fruit of the Spirit. They are: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”

So, control yourself, be gentle, and stop disputing or arguing. Instead, learn to discuss, but don’t be pushy or aggressive. In non-critical issues, it’s better if you don’t demand that you are right and the other is wrong. Admit that no one’s memory – yours included – is perfect, and admit that not all erroneous memories are reason for conflict. Kindly agree to disagree and preserve your relationship.

However, go ahead and work to improve your memory. And when there is a difference of memory regarding a non-critical issue, let it go. Rise above the situation; allow the other person freedom of expression. Isn’t that what you want? Who knows: it may very-well be that you both are partly correct – therefore, partly incorrect.

Don’t lock-up; lighten up. As you release tension, you create the mental and spiritual environment that makes it easier to recall the truth of the matter. Sadly, the couple mentioned above hasn’t figured that out yet. But you can if you try, and ask the Lord to help you.