Works? or God’s Grace?

Martin Luther stated that we are saved by grace, but I read in the book of James that we must do “works” to be saved. And I was told that we don’t live under law anymore. Please explain this.              C.K.

Martin Luther was quoting the Apostle Paul, so you might be pitting the Apostles Paul and James against each other (and James was Jesus’ half-brother).

Paul said in Ephesians 2:8–9, “By grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God. Not by works, lest any man should boast.” And James said in James 2:17–18, “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith” (NRSV).

Paul was talking to those who came from an idolatrous background, and whose “worship” consisted of “religious activity.” It didn’t matter what they thought or whether or not they believed in God. Rather, it was things they did that others could see that got them points with God. They thought they had to earn their way to heaven. So Paul emphasized that our actions (works) will not save us, or even prove our relationship with God. Paul was attempting to balance their belief system.

James came from the opposite direction. He was talking to different people who believed that they could say anything, do anything, and live any way they pleased (including moral debauchery); but as long as they had good thoughts in their mind or said the right words, God would accept them and they were saved. But James told them that what they called faith was fruitless, inactive, or non-existent if their actions didn’t support or verify their words. He told them that if we are saved (if we actually have a living relationship with God) our lifestyle (works, obedience) will verify it. James was attempting to balance this other extreme view.

Paul said that salvation cannot be earned or worked for: it is a gift. And James said good works and Godly living will be a result of our faith in Jesus Christ.

So Paul and James are both correct. Nothing we do can gain us favor with God. Words in and of themselves are meaningless, and works in and of themselves are hollow. Rather, God is concerned about what we are. If our relationship with God through Jesus Christ is established, our words and works will be guided by the Holy Spirit and will be authoritative and powerful. What we believe AND what we do will be affected by (or because of) our relationship with God.

Both Martin Luther and the Apostle Paul will agree with this: Our actions or lifestyle (works), thoughts and beliefs (faith) are both necessary to live for Christ. Good works will not save us. But because we are saved, we will do good works.

Now, there is a controversy over living under grace versus living under law.

Regardless of what we say we believe, those who purposely continue to live in sin will live under the law and will be judged by the law. The only reason we live under grace is because we have stopped living in sin, confessed our sin, asked God to forgive us, and we now obey God’s law. But whoever reverts to a sinful life, reverts to living under law.

That is not circular-reasoning, but Godly logic. Just try telling a policeman that you cannot get a ticket for driving 100 mph because you live under grace. The patrolman might say, “Very well; after you pay the ticket, you can resume living under grace – if you obey the law.”

Someone asked if I were a legalist. I told him that Jesus said In Matt. 5:17-18, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, ‘till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, ‘till all be fulfilled.” So, am I a legalist? Perhaps – in the correct meaning of the word. I do believe in the law.

However, Romans 8:1 says, “There is no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” Therefore, as long as I obey God’s law, I live under grace.

Enjoying Time Together

It’s near the turn of the year again. Wow! Time sure seems to fly by. As Carol and I were playing Scrabble last night … before I go any further, do any of you play Scrabble? How about Yahtzee, Monopoly, Life, Pictionary, Dominoes, or Balderdash? Do any of you put puzzles together? Do you eat together as a family, or as a married couple? Or is it “each person is on his own”? Are you obsessed with getting ahead in life, fearful about the direction of the stock market, or worried about what’s going to happen in the Middle-east?

I suppose my basic question is: do you, as a family, spend time together anymore, or are you individually cocooned in your own little world, worried about life, or mesmerized with your video games, tweeting, texting, or whatever else is available these days?

Let me ask another question: if you died tonight, what would you be remembered for? Stop a minute and think about it. …….. What did you come up with? Be honest with yourself: no one is listening to your thoughts except God, but you can’t fool Him anyway. What would be your legacy?

I know men and women who left much monetary gain to their families, but that didn’t earn them any greater respect or love. I know some who were famous in the scientific and/or educational fields, but the families were distant from them. I know some who were ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but they, also, were rejected by their families.

WHY??

One reason might be hinted at by a question a reporter asked Billy Graham years ago: “Mr. Graham, if you had your life to do over, would you change anything?”

“Yes,” replied Billy Graham, “I would probably spend less time on the road and more time with my family.”

“Why is that, sir?”

Billy’s response was misunderstood by some, but hit home to my heart. He said, “The ministry will always be there, but my family won’t be.”

Did you hear it? That comes very close to what Jesus said. It was so important that it is recorded in Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7, and John 12:8. When Mary poured expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet, at least one of the disciples was upset at her for wasting it. Judas said that it could have been sold and the money given to the poor. But Jesus said, “You will always have the poor among you, but I will not be here with you much longer.” Jesus was not denigrating true ministry, but He did put an emphasis on Christ-honoring relationships.

So, back to my question: what will you be remembered for? Five months after your funeral, after the will or trust has been settled, what will the family members say about you?

This is why I’ve invested much time playing with our kids as they were growing up, and why my Precious Carol and I play Scrabble and other games with each other now in our upper years. We are still investing into each other’s lives.

Yes, I preach or teach as the doors open, and as you know by reading this blog, I write a lot. But life should not consist of merely learning, earning, and accumulating stuff. The most important thing is growing in our relationship with God, then manifesting our faith in Jesus Christ by how we live with and treat others.

Our children are all adults now, and we have 36 grandkids – at last count. But I still greatly enjoy spending time with and investing my life into my Precious Carol. And she invests her life into me.

Now, where was I? Oh yes. We were playing Scrabble.

Although we are competitive, we have fun while using the game for learning. Therefore, we use the dictionary to look up words. At times we show each other where the other might get more points. You see, we figure that no matter who wins on a particular evening, we both win because we love each other and enjoy spending time with each other. And using the dictionary is increasing our vocabulary which helps us as we interact with society. Using the dictionary also helps us as we grow older.

As of this writing, Carol and I are tied at 401 games. That means we’ve played 802 games, and that’s only since I’ve been keeping record.

This coming year, learn to enjoy spending time with your family – you don’t know when your time on earth will come to an end. When you die, will you wake up in Jesus home … or somewhere else? Think about it.

Let’s honor Jesus in all that we do because we want to spend eternity with Him.

Happy New Year, friends.

Look Beyond the Lights

What do you want for Christmas? Last year, that question was asked numerous times in over 127 million homes in the United States, and it was amazing what kind of answers were given.

According to a Gallup poll, American adults will spend an average of $920 on Christmas gifts this year. And another report stated if all the Christmas money was spent on American products, it could create over 4,000,000 jobs.

Here’s some interesting trivia. In the USA, 62% of us buy our gifts the week before Christmas, 47% of women would want jewelry, 32% of men prefer gift vouchers, and 23% of men and women won’t make their choices without the help of social media. You can find much more information on the internet about every facet of Christmas holiday life. Oh, yes: 43% of Americans put up decorations before Thanksgiving Day.

Eight hundred years from now, if some historian dug up these statistics, plus all the rest of the information I didn’t print here, would he or she know what Christmas was all about? I know how my dad would respond. He would ask, “How many people TODAY know what Christmas is all about?”

In the third paragraph of this reflection, I said you can find much more information on the internet about every facet of Christmas holiday life. Although that might be true, it is somewhat misleading because what is called Christmas holiday life does not speak about Jesus Christ, and Christmas was originally all about Christ. Therefore, we need to separate Christmas holiday life, which is secular, from Christmas and a Celebration of Christ Jesus, which is holy.

I admit, every mid-December, Carol and I like to drive around and look at the houses that are illuminating the neighborhood with lights and winter scenes, with a few nativity scenes interspersed. We’ve taken hundreds of pictures over the years of some the more spectacular settings in Seattle, Dallas, Tulsa, San Diego, Albuquerque, and other places.

Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Ho-ho-ho. The Chipmunks singing. Choirs. Cantatas. Lights all around town! But what’s going on in real life? What would we discover if we looked beyond the lights?

In one direction, we find a lot of temporary happiness, fun, parties, and gift-giving taking place. Many folks indulge in alcoholic drinking, over-eating, and immorality of every kind in an attempt to mask their emotional emptiness and interpersonal problems. That’s like putting duct tape over a gash in the tire, hoping the tire won’t go flat again. Duct tape won’t work for a flat tire, and after the holiday blitz is over, the problems, pain, and depression remain unchanged; and many people terminate their lives hoping to end it all!

However, if we look in the other direction, we find people who see the light-filled season in a different light. Pardon the pun.

Joy? Fun? Parties? Gift-giving? Cantatas? Yes, and a whole lot more! But the joyful times experienced by these folks are not masking hurts, pains, or depressions. Those who know and honor the Lord Jesus Christ give of themselves and of their resources to help those who are in need. The celebration is real, and reminiscent of the light-filled sky the shepherds experienced more than 2,020 years ago when the angels made the world-changing announcement about the baby they would see wrapped up and lying in a manger. And giving gifts to others reminds us of the Wise Men who honored Almighty God as they gave gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the child, Jesus Christ, in Mary’s lap.

Oh, yes. I know that many non-Christians give to others who are hurting. Various businesses have turkey-drives and toy-drives, and our society supports numerous charities. I am grateful for that. We have government programs that help the homeless to some degree. But those activities and programs provide only short-term help.

When the Christmas season is over, what do people do? Think about it.

If the pain, problems, and depression haven’t been resolved, people start the next year with the same bitter or hopeless outlook on life they had before Thanksgiving. But there is hope!

That hope is found in relationship with Almighty God through the Lord, Jesus Christ. But we have to look beyond the lights, beyond the glitz, beyond the noise and hoopla that the world throws in our face. We need to look into the face of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Our Obsession With Death

Intrigue. Plotting. Guns. Explosions. Executions. Blood. Murder. Carnage. Terror. Running. Fear. Screams. Panic. Revenge. Retaliation, etc., etc. … will it ever end?

I am talking about America’s infatuation with and obsession with death. All this of the world is obsessed with it, too. All this includes television, theaters, video games, and eastern religions. There are two groups of people involved here.

The first group consists of everyone who like to watch it happen. They talk about it, meditate on it, are thrilled by it, and pay billions of dollars to support it. And many people are paid millions to portray it.

Here are the names of several rock bands: Death, Black Sabbath, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax, Avenged Sevenfold, Guns N’ Roses, As I Lay Dying, Fear Factory, Demon Hunter, Grave Digger, Grim Reaper, Grateful Dead, and many more!

Do you know what group was playing when the terrorists began murdering in the Paris Le Bataclan Theater? Eagles of Death Metal.

Other ways we manifest our obsession with death is by what we watch in theaters. Several movies are: Spectre, The Last Witch Hunter, Sinister, The Exorcist, The Babadook, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and The Evil Dead. I don’t have enough time or space to name them all. 

The theater in Aurora, Colorado was showing the film The Dark Knight Rises. Mass-murderer James Holmes entered the theater dressed like one of the evil characters and began killing. He even cunningly rigged his apartment with explosives to kill any policeman or detective who might enter. (The detectives out-witted Holmes there.)

There are hundreds of murderous and sex-crazed television series and dramas. Quantico, Zombie, Once Upon a Time, Walking Dead, Boardwalk Vampire, Six Feet Under, Breaking Bad, House of Cards, Death Note, Castle, Scandal, You’re the Worst, Penny Dreadful, and American Horror Story are but a few.

Do you see what I mean when I say we have an obsession with death? And don’t ever again believe that watching videos or movies or playing deadly video games don’t affect people! One person who was arrested for murder was asked why he butchered the 17-year-old girl. His response: “I’ve seen it so many times in theaters and killed so many times in video games, I wanted to see what it felt like to actually do it.”

We legislate God and morality out of our society, legislate evil and immorality into our society, then we wonder why all this hell is breaking out. Incredible!

Have you ever wondered why sex crimes are at an all-time high? People – both genders – see nudity on television, in theaters, and in advertisements hour after hour, day after day. When actors remove their clothing, people think, “They are actors and it is okay to watch it.” We have become a sex-crazed people. That’s because society lost its sensitivity to inhibitions that God placed in us at creation. Therefore, as people feel free to murder, people also feel free to commit sexual crimes. And it all falls under the banner of “rebellion against God.”

The second group who are obsessed with death are those we call “radical jihadists” and who are attempting to create a world-wide Caliphate. These people scorn anyone who doesn’t believe the same way they do – even those of their own religion. But they view their murderous activities in a different light than we do: they do it in honor of their god, and they don’t intend to quit! They are convinced that fomenting a world-wide war will hasten the return of their long-awaited spiritual leader. And we westerners believe the lie that jihad is not a religious war? Again, incredible.

But even Christians in the so-called “civilized countries” have a problem. We pay untold millions of dollars to involve ourselves mentally and spiritually in murder, witchcraft, and adultery by watching it – which is sin – but we don’t want to see it happen in real life. This is a world-class double-standard! Stop and think: are you guilty of this double-standard?

If you truly detest what happened in Paris, London, Pensacola, the Middle East, in the Aurora theater, and in many schools, and the hundreds of other places people are murdering people, if you believe that people should not commit sex crimes, then you need to stop watching that stuff! You may not realize it, but watching it contaminates your mind and spirit. Our crime, immorality, and pornography rate prove it.

Why does it happen? When society stops living for and worshiping Almighty God, something must fill the void. And that “something” is some form of evil.

dscn0464In order for society to change for the better, we individually and corporately must change. We must turn away from evil and learn to truly honor Almighty God.

As long as people insist on enjoying evil, evil will prevail. But if you want the world to be a better place to live, you must turn to the Lord Jesus Christ, and make your portion of the world better.

 

Breaking the Sound Barrier

At first I laughed when my father said an airplane could break a sound barrier – whatever that meant. But I grew up with many funny ideas, such as: dawn can crack, night can fall, stories have sharp points, and there are different zones in town where we can speed. And now sound has a barrier that can break? Maybe it could. We learn a lot as we grow up, don’t we?

A barrier is something that impedes or blocks movement or progress. Does sound do that? No. But there is something about a certain speed that causes problems. It is called the speed of sound, and that speed varies according to temperature, air pressure, and humidity. So, at 68 degrees F, near sea level in low humidity, that speed is about 768 mph.

As an object moves through the air, pressure builds in front of it. You experience it as you stick your hand out the window of a moving car. A column of compressed air is actually amassing against the front of the car. Also against your hand.

Interesting things happen to a jet airplane as it passes from subsonic to supersonic speed. At that critical speed, battling enormous pressure, it seems that the laws of physics change: a shock wave is generated which creates a sharp noise (sonic boom), the shock wave generates heat, and the aircraft control surfaces reverse their intended purposes: called control reversal. As the pilot tries to raise the nose of the plane, it goes down. As he attempts to bank to the right, it turns left. Because they weren’t aware of that, several pilots lost their lives in crashes in the early days of testing.

Chuck Yeager in the experimental aircraft, the Bell X-1, was probably the first man to break the sound barrier in level flight. He and his craft were dropped from the belly of a B-52 at high altitude so Chuck would have a head start – and plenty of room for error. But he did well!

We experience sonic booms as bullets leave the gun barrel, bullwhips crack, and meteorites crash into the atmosphere. Of course, the larger the object that breaks the sound barrier, the louder the boom. Meteor Crater near Winslow, Arizona was created by a meteor that was possibly 150 feet in diameter and weighed possibly 300,000 tons, and hit the desert at possibly 27,000 mph – over 33 times the speed of sound. The resulting explosion generated energy that might have exceeded 1,000 times the power of the atomic bomb over Hiroshima, and the sonic-boom might have been heard hundreds of miles away.

Why the “mights, possiblys, and approximates” in the previous paragraph? It’s because no one was there to prove the data, and those are our best guesses.

The Blackbird, the Lockheed SR-71, flew at greater than 2,300 mph (three times the speed of sound) and friction between the plane and the atmosphere generated heat of about 1,100 F. It took four air conditioning units to cool both the interior and the exterior surfaces of the plane in flight.

Although the sound barrier is no longer a problem for us because we understand it, there’s another “barrier” many folks haven’t yet understood; and that is the barrier that prevents or hinders communication with our Father in heaven.

The first step in “breaking” this barrier is accepting the fact that God exists, and that He wants to hear from us. The second step is understanding that our eternal future depends on communicating with God. It’s called prayer.

The third step is learning what prayer is. Very simply: prayer is talking with God. You talk with God just like you talk with anyone whom you can see. There is no special formula, and you don’t have to use the King James language. Tell God what’s on your mind.

Step four is learning that God actually hears you. First John 5:14 says, “And we can be confident that He [God] will listen to us whenever we ask Him for anything in line with His will.” He listens to us!

Step five is knowing that God cares for you. God’s love is manifested throughout Scripture, but here are two references to hang onto. You know John 3:16, but here is 1 John 3:1a – “See how very much our heavenly Father loves us….” God, our Creator, wants to hear from you.

Ready for step six? Talk To God. You might be surprised at how He responds, because He reveals Himself to those who sincerely desire to know truth.

So break this barrier. God is waiting.

Peace in the Storm

Our daughter, Rebecca, called and said, “You need to hear this! You will laugh your socks off!” And she proceeded to relate the following scenario.

Adjacent to their driveway is a chain-link fence covered with vines. Birds annually build nests in the intertwining tendrils because they know they are safe in the leafy maze. Our granddaughters play all around the yard, including near the vines, but the birds know the girls are not a threat to the eggs and fledglings.

But there are historic menaces that lurk nearby – cats! So the parent birds are always diligently on the lookout for approaching prowlers to prevent them from invading the nest and having breakfast. Rebecca’s cat is named Lilly.

Lilly had eaten her Meow Mix breakfast, walked around the house, and sat down on the driveway near the fence. It was a warm sunny day with a light breeze, and Lilly was apparently enjoying life.

Suddenly, the parent bird came swooping out of the sky and feinted an attack on the seeming intruder! Lilly just sat there, didn’t budge or even flinch at the furious frenzied flyer, but continued gazing across the lawn.

After the scare tactics of pretending to dive bomb the cat didn’t produce the desired result, the bird flew up five or six feet then actually dive-bombed Lilly! After enduring the physical assaults several times, Lilly glanced over her shoulder, stood up and sauntered a few steps, then sat back down and steadfastly resumed her peaceful outlook on life. Lilly seemed to know that the three-ounce aviator wasn’t a real problem. I suppose the bird finally also realized that Lilly wasn’t a problem, and flew away.

After a minute or so when the cat stood up and ambled away, Rebecca said, “I have to call dad!” We shared a hearty laugh.

I told her that reminds me of Taffy – my 18-pound Maine Coon cat years ago – and the golden retrievers next door when we lived in New Mexico. Although separated by a five-foot chain-link fence, the retrievers wanted to kill Taffy and always “barked their heads off” every time they saw him.

One day I could hardly believe my eyes. I was harvesting beets from the garden when the pooches began barking – again. The fence began rattling and the barking became more agitated, so I looked up.

Taffy was walking directly toward them with eyes locked onto theirs. The retrievers were trying to push through the fence; the hair on their neck and back was standing straight up as they made all the noise their vocal chords could muster!

In the midst of the pandemonium, Taff walked directly toward the would-be killers to within two feet of the fence and made the customary 3-circle rotation. Amidst the cacophony, he then proceeded to lie down – and with head resting on paw, resumed looking directly at the barking dogs. The cat then very slowly opened his mouth and released one long disdaining HISS!

The dogs lost their minds! But Taff’s ears weren’t even laid back, for he was at peace in the midst of the storm.

Why didn’t Taffy and Lilly run for protection? How did Taff endure severe mental and audible abuse, and how did Lilly endure mental and physical abuse?

They both knew they were safe. That got me to thinking about the storms humans face.

A debilitating sickness and a diagnosis of a terminal disease are major storms. Loss of a job, a divorce, death of a close friend or family member, and personal rejection are storms.

Note: in order to keep our storms in perspective, remember that every day people around the world are being murdered because of their faith.

So, what storm are you facing right now?

Yes, these storms are real for the person in midst of them, but we don’t have to “lose our minds” or lose emotional stability. We also need to remember that we cannot face them alone. We need help. Friends and family are the primary human support system, but a deep, enduring faith in Jesus Christ and dependence on Him is our main support and protection.

We should not fear death, for it is the door to heaven for a Christian. And in the midst of the storm remember what Hebrews 13:5b says, “I [Jesus] will never leave you nor forsake you.” We need to trust Him. No matter the storm you are facing, you will not be overcome if you lock your eyes – your faith – onto Jesus Christ.

Why Do You Argue?

Several years ago, a man walked up to me in front of a supermarket and asked, “Pastor Linzey, how many animals were on the Mayflower?”

I had no idea how many animals were on the hundred-foot long Mayflower, with one hundred and two passengers and a twenty-five to thirty-man crew.

Thinking it was a trick question, I said, “I don’t know, maybe a few dogs and….”

But before I could continue, he verbally exploded: “You are just as ignorant as the rest of those Christians – oh, I mean on Noah’s Ark. How many animals were on the ark?”

His attempt to embarrass me backfired. Maybe I should have ignored him and walked away. But I responded with, “The Bible doesn’t say how many animals were on the ark, but….”

Again, he cut me off. Hoping to malign my integrity, the young man blurted out, “I knew it! You are as ignorant as everyone else who says they are Christians! I have my doctorate and you Christians are ignorant!” He then victoriously stomped away. This young man was not inquiring for knowledge, insight, or help in any manner. Rather, he had an agenda to boost his own ego by publicly disparaging me in an argumentative manner.

I understood that young man’s problem, for in my ignorant youth, I enjoyed the same sport. I boosted my own ego by arguing with others in order to “prove” them wrong. It didn’t matter the subject – I knew how to wield words like swords, and I enjoyed verbal sparring. But as I grew older, and hopefully more mature, I learned the difference between argumentation and persuasion. I also realized how arrogant and foolish it is to argue with and degrade others. That’s when I asked the Lord to forgive me. I forgave that young man and prayed for him.

The immature form of arguing I am talking about is: to quarrel, squabble, bicker dispute, etc.; to exchange or express diverging or opposite views in a contrary, arrogant, heated, or angry manner. You win only by degrading your opponent.

But there’s a better way to communicate an opposing viewpoint: persuasion. That is: inducement, convincing, encouragement; causing people to want to believe something without offending them.

Words are powerful force: everybody uses them, but not always properly, constructively, and effectively. Another problem arises because many people don’t realize their “audience” has tuned them out. There is a saying in the military: “The myth of communication is that it has taken place.”

When is the last time you thought you clearly understood what was said, but learned later that you missed it? The problem is two-sided: the speaker and the hearer. Sometimes what I thought I said to Carol was not what I verbalized – my error. Other times she misunderstood what I did say – her error. Those interactions can generate interesting discussions. Successful communication depends on clear purposes, careful attention to the message, how it is conveyed, and a thorough awareness of the audience.

I’ve had the privilege of learning from people like Zig Ziglar, Stephen Covey, and John Maxwell. They are true leaders who teach us how to see beyond our own short-sightedness.

Covey encourages us to search for a “win-win” solution. By seeking the benefit of others, we mature in our own character. Ziglar teaches that when we enable others to succeed, we also are enabled to “reach the top.” Maxwell teaches that we reach greatness as we endeavor to help others succeed.

Jason Jones, with Strata Leadership, LLC, said, “You don’t have to be a celebrity to be persuasive. People want to be persuaded by, and follow someone who is confident and resolute in their thought, vision, and direction.”

Over the years, I learned that to persuade others – rather than argue with them – we need to keep several things in mind. We need to know what we are talking about, look people in the eyes as we speak, smile, speak clearly and confidently but not forcefully, engage the other person in discussion, purposefully listen when they speak, find things in common to talk about, and use our body language to support what we say. To really understand, we need to “listen” with our eyes as well as with our ears.

One who knows how to persuade others is a powerful person, and Christ-centered persuasive people manifest that power with confidence baptized in true humility.

It Was On Backwards

We lived in the high country of northern New Mexico for many years. At 7,827 feet above sea level, we lived about a half mile higher than Denver. When folks who live near sea level take a trip up there and start chopping wood or do some other vigorous activity, they find out what it means to be out-of-breath. Why is that?

Sea level atmospheric pressure averages around 14.7 pounds per square inch, and water boils at 212 F. But the air pressure at 7,827 feet is around 11.1 psi, and water boils around 198 F. Okay, that’s not a big deal; but when we remember that the oxygen content in the atmosphere averages around 20.9%, a 3.6 psi drop in air pressure effectively reduces the available oxygen by 5%. Therefore, people need to breathe deeper or more often until their bodies acclimate to the altitude.

Conversely, when Carol and I moved to Siloam Springs (altitude of 1,132 feet, air pressure of 14.1 psi, with the boiling point around 210 F), we had a much easier time breathing.

Back to my story.

In New Mexico, we lived in the forest about thirty miles from town. Sometimes we had to remove a tree that had fallen across the road. Many of us carried chain saws in the back of our 4-wheel drive vehicles, so if the tree was too large to move by hand or truck, we would cut the tree to manageable chunks to clear the road.

Tornados, which are common in the flat country, are almost unheard of in the mountains of New Mexico. But one day a small twister touched down and took out about 183 trees that ranged in diameter from twelve inches to three feet (plus tons of saplings and underbrush), and it really cluttered up the road.

Seven or eight of us gathered around the mangled mess and got out our trusty chain saws. I was real proud of my saw. Our kids gave me a Sears-Best with a 20-inch bar, and I could hardly wait to show my friends what I could do with it.

I put gas and oil in it, checked the tension of the chain, put on my safety goggles and hearing protection, and pulled the cord.

RRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!! It started up like it knew what it was doing.

I eagerly stepped up to the nearest tree lying across the road and increased the power. RRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!! I was excited and ready to throw chips and sawdust all over the road. With the saw revved at full speed, I attacked the tree. But nothing happened.

I was perplexed because my prized saw didn’t cut anything. I tried it again with the same results: nothing. No one was watching, for they were busy clearing their own portion of the road, so I shut the saw down to analyze the problem.

Have you ever felt an agonizing and humiliating embarrassment flood your soul? I did right then. Again, I looked around to see who was watching. Everyone else was busy working, and I was glad.

I had the appropriate tool, gas was in the tank, and the engine ran smoothly. But I had the chain on backwards!

Completely aggravated at myself for my ignorance, I quietly put the saw back in my pickup and did what any hard-working “wanna-be mountain-man” would do: I helped move the logs the other guys were cutting.

How many times have you discovered that a good plan wouldn’t work simply because you did something backwards? Many Christians I know complain about their lack of finances, but they squander their money at the casinos. Other folks make disastrous or poor decisions because they didn’t pray about them or seek counsel. These folks aren’t thinking properly.

But do you realize that God never gets things backwards? His plans are perfectly laid out. When something goes awry, it is us – you and me – who mess up. Proverbs 3:5-6 exhorts us: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek God’s will in all you do, and he will direct your paths.” Proverbs 4:7(a) says, “Getting wisdom is the most important thing you can do.” And wisdom comes from God.

God’s plans are perfect. Listen to Him; trust and obey Him. God is omniscient and He’ll never lead you astray.

When I returned home, I reinstalled the chain. A month later, I did successfully clear the road of a fallen tree. And if I ever get tempted to look down on someone who made a mistake, God reminds me of when I had the chain on backwards.

A Life Saved

I don’t know the best way to describe this man, but his life was a mess. I’ll call him Joe. He was recently fired from his job, and his wife filed for a divorce with a corresponding restraining order. His children – one was nine years old and the other fifteen – were afraid of him. Simply put, he was an alcoholic and was abusive to his wife and kids.

Joe started drinking alcohol in elementary school by sneaking it when his parents were away from home. Oh, the family went to church and put on a good façade for the community; and most folk thought they were a fine family. Very few people knew the mental and spiritual torment the family was experiencing.

Because they had their own problems, Joe’s parents didn’t learn of his alcohol problem until Joe left home. After Joe’s parents’ messy divorce, his father committed suicide.

As Joe entered adulthood, he prided himself in being able to drink on the job, yet effectively perform his vocational responsibilities. As with so many alcoholics, he thought he was hiding the problem; but his friends, vocational associates, and family were covering for him.

Let me say here: “protecting” the alcoholic is the worst thing anyone can do for him or her: it prevents potential recovery. We shouldn’t condemn the alcoholic, but don’t cover for them.

Joe’s life went from bad to worse. I won’t go into the details, but the police department began building a file on him. Then Joe remembered his dad. Swearing early in life never to be like his father, Joe had, in reality, become just like him. Now, thinking there was nothing left in life for him, Joe found himself considering the same final action: suicide.

He stole a pistol and ammunition, robbed a liquor store (took whiskey and money), and went to a motel in a run-down part of town. Sitting on the edge of the bed with loaded weapon in hand, he thought maybe he should write a note to explain to whoever found him why he did it. Opening the top drawer in the nightstand to get a pen and paper, he became angry when he realized that the cheap motel wouldn’t even provide writing material. But he did see a book in the drawer.

Curiosity prompted him to look into the book before killing himself, so he picked it up to see what it was about. The title on the cover said, “Holy Bible”, and there was a round logo on the bottom with the words, “Placed by The Gideons.”

“Who are they?” Joe wondered as he opened the Bible. It seemed to fall open to the Gospel of John, and Joe began reading something he had never read before: “In the beginning was the Word; the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Joe wondered who the Word was, so he kept reading. Verse fourteen started with, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us….”

This was all new to Joe. Having nothing to lose, he decided to read a lot more before ending his miserable existence. By the time Joe had finished reading the Gospel of John, it was getting light outside and tears were running down his face. Something was happening inside of him. He blurted out, “Do you love me, Jesus?” No Answer.

Hiding the firearm, Joe called a local church. “There’s probably no one there to answer my questions” he muttered to himself. But amazingly, the pastor answered the phone. After listening for several minutes, the pastor invited Joe to breakfast. Time with the pastor lasted through lunch and into dinner. Joe finally met someone who could answer many of the questions he had asked for most of his life.

Because of that Gideon Bible, Joe reached out for help.

At thirty-eight years of age, Joe was introduced to Jesus Christ and Joe’s torment was over. Don’t misunderstand: he still had many issues to face and reconcile; but the pastor promised to walk with him every step of the way if Joe would give him the gun and whisky, and permit him to call the police. Joe did, and his healing began.

God’s word in that Bible, backed up by someone who cared, saved Joe’s life. This is only one of many thousands of real-life examples of how the Lord saves and changes lives.

If you are facing frustration, misery, and confusion, don’t end your life. Instead, start a new life with the One Who loves you and died for you. Turn to Jesus. He might not solve all your problems, but He can guide you and help you do what’s necessary to solve them. And find a Christ-honoring friend who can lead you in the right direction.

Your future doesn’t need to look bleak – it can look bright.

Do You Plan Ahead?

Yesterday (as of this writing) Carol and I were driving from Rogers to Fayetteville (Arkansas). We took the Sunset Blvd. exit in Springdale, and were waiting for the green light. We were headed for Denny’s on the east side of the I-49 freeway. Three vehicles were in front of us. It was 8:35 am.

The light turned green. Two seconds later, I heard a loud “WHUMP!” Well, to you, it may have sounded like “CRASH!” or “CRASH and then WHUMP!”

As the dust settled, we saw what happened. The light turned red for the traffic on Sunset Blvd. (which is also highway 412), and two drivers made a mistake. The driver of a white pickup heading east on Sunset was in a hurry, and couldn’t stand the thought of waiting another four minutes for the next green light; so he hit the gas-peddle and ran the red light. The driver of the brown pickup who was ready to turn onto 412, assuming the green light meant “safe to go”, made a jack-rabbit start. The two pickups met in the intersection.

I couldn’t see the front end of the brown pickup, but he had broadsided the white pickup and pushed it across the intersection and over the curb on the south side of 412. The front end of the white pickup was mangled with both front tires broken off. Police were called. As I drove past him, the white pickup driver was holding his head in his hands with his elbows resting on the steering wheel. In my estimation, the truck was totaled, and the driver apparently felt miserable and stupid for running the red light – all to save four minutes.

Being in a reckless hurry, the driver lost an entire day – and his truck. His mistake also cost hundreds of other drivers much more than ten minutes in their schedule. And the other driver?

The brown pickup driver, assuming green was “safe to go”, took off without looking to see if it actually was safe. By the time he saw the white pickup, he had already hit it. If only he had hesitated and looked both ways, he would have been aware of what was happening and could have taken preventive action.

Within ten minutes, two police cars, a fire truck, and two ambulances were on the scene. One pickup was destroyed, another needed major surgery, two people were injured, and hundreds of other drivers were delayed.

All because one man wanted to save four minutes!

In our cross-country trips, Carol and I have seen hundreds of careless or reckless people driving foolishly. No matter what the speed limit (Carol and I stick closely to it), many folk drive ten to thirty mph over it. But what’s the big hurry?

Don’t people plan ahead anymore? My father taught me a very important principle: “It’s better to be an hour early than a minute late.” On the other hand, if I do run late, I don’t try to make up lost time as I drive. It’s better to be late than to risk anyone’s life – including my own.

Planning ahead is the key that would prevent most problems on the road; actually, it would prevent many problems in life. If I need to be somewhere at ten o’clock and it will take thirty minutes to get there, I allow an extra fifteen minutes for traffic delays, and leave no later than 9:15. If I’m going across country, I allow extra time in each phase of the trip so I’m not in a hurry. In our last trip to Tennessee, we hit a two-hour traffic tie-up; but we had included four extra hours in the schedule so we weren’t late.

We should plan ahead for every trip – including our final trip in life that starts at death. Have you made appropriate plans? Yes, insurance and estate planning are necessary; but have you planned to meet the Lord Jesus Christ? After all, that will be the most important trip of your eternal existence.

Don’t try to “run the red light” at the eternal intersection and expect to make it across safely. It won’t work. Prepare now by studying the road map – the Bible. Avoid the traffic delays in life – called sin. And call the Highway Patrol – the Holy Spirit – for advice. You must plan ahead in order to safely reach the destination – being with God forever in heaven.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)