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.

Reset the Computer

At a National Laboratory where I worked, one of our scientists called our computer tech to fix his computer.

“What’s wrong with it?” Nolan asked.

Allen responded, “It won’t do anything. It’s been working fine through all my research and writing. But now I’m ready to print my report for the symposium at Washington, DC. I gave the computer a command to print, but it just sat there. I pushed the print command several times and nothing. I think the hard drive crashed.”

Nolan, one of the best in his field, needed to take Allen’s computer to his shop to check it out. He asked, “How long can you be without your computer?”

“I can’t be without it at all!” Allen exclaimed.

Nolan was smart. “Well, you’re without it right now, and it’s almost noon. Are you going to lunch in a few minutes?”

“Okay,” Allen said. “You got me. When do you think you can fix this thing?”

“I’ll get on it right away.”

As the group’s security officer, I was in Nolan’s office working with him on another issue. Nolan didn’t immediately turn the laptop computer off because he wanted to see how the machine was being used. What he found didn’t surprise him.

Without shutting it down for the past two months, Allen had used eighteen high-powered programs, searched on the internet several times every day, and worked on twenty-three detailed reports including complex mathematical databases. He currently had thirteen documents open and six programs running while compiling his final report.

“No wonder the computer decided to take a nap.” Nolan said. “It’s just plain tired!”

Saving Allen’s work, Nolan shut the laptop down, let it sleep for a minute, then restarted it. Next, he ran a program that cleaned out the junk that accumulates over time. This “junk” consists of temporary files, broken shortcuts, damaged registry, and other associated problems. He ran a “disk fix” program to repair any potentially damaged sectors, and finally he defragged the computer.

Fragmentation happens every time a computer is used. Because files are constantly being created, written, deleted and resized, pieces of data are scattered across the hard drive and creates a mess which sometimes causes the RAM (Random Access Memory) to overwork. Fragmentation causes slow performance, longer boot-up-times, seemingly interminable pauses, and freeze-ups–sometimes even the inability to shut down. Defragmentation gathers all of the separated pieces of data and puts them back together, and places the files where they belong.

Nolan said, “We need to clean up our computers periodically.”

Two hours later when he took the laptop back to Allen, Nolan told him, “When you close a program or put down a document, mini-programs continue running in the background which gradually usurp more of your RAM; and that slows things down. Also, unless you shut the computer down, it never stops ‘thinking’ and cannot reset. I know you’re busy, but try to remember to shut down your computer once a week to let the thing reset itself. And try not to have more than three or four programs open simultaneously.

Allen blurted, “I don’t have time to remember all that!”

“That’s okay. Just call me when it freezes up again.”

Walking back to Nolan’s office, we began talking about our biological computers–our brains. Communication across the cranial network is similar to the communication between computers, routers, servers and the internet. Brains don’t totally shut down, but they do need to “reset” often; and God designed that reset to take place when we sleep.

Our sleep must be sufficient in quantity and quality to rest our bodies as well as our brains; and in the deepest part of sleep the brain closes down most of its connections–it resets. However, always active to some degree, the brain is on “standby” mode; and most dreams are our thoughts in pictorial format.

When we get proper sleep, the brain “saves” the learning we experienced during the day; therefore, sufficient sleep completes the learning process. After rest and mental reset, we are more prepared for the next days’ challenges.

But a lot of junk–worry, animosity, fear, etc.–enters our minds every day and generates mental fragmentation. The way to “clean up” or “defrag” is found in 1Peter 5:7 – “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about what happens to you.” and Proverbs 3:5 – “Seek God’s will in all you do, and he will direct your paths.”

Why don’t you sit down, get a cup of coffee, tea, or milk, relax and think about it? It’ll do you some good.

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Should We Legislate Morals?

Some years ago, a friend and I were talking about our nation’s problems and how they could or should be solved. He was thinking from a political world-view where new laws need to be created for every new situation, and I was thinking from a realistic world-view where multitudinous comprehensive laws had already been created. But Henry, knowing me but not understanding my view-point, blurted out, “You can’t legislate morals.”

Surprised, I asked what he meant. He said, “Outlawing alcohol – you know, prohibition – in the 1920s didn’t work; outlawing gambling didn’t work; and outlawing prostitution, drugs, and other activities isn’t working. Therefore, they should all be legalized so the government can collect taxes on it all. You just can’t legislate morals!”

He said a mouthful in those forty-three words. But is he correct? No! Whether those activities remain illegal or are legalized, they have been legislated.

“Morals” is defined as: relating to, or concerned with the principles or rules of right conduct; the distinction between right and wrong; concerned with the judgment of right or wrong human action and character. Conforming to standards of what is right or just in behavior.

Who or what made the distinction between right and wrong? Let’s look into it.

What about taking a life? Homicide has commonly been called 1st, 2nd, or 3rd degree murder, and it’s against the law in the US to murder someone. What about theft? On the books we have petit larceny, then four degrees of grand larceny: also against the law. What about lying? Perjury is spelled out in the US Code, Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 79, § 1621. You guessed it: illegal.

Let’s see now – “morals” is the distinction between right and wrong. And we just identified three moral activities which we have outlawed by legislation. And you might be interested to know that those three activities are prohibited in the 6th, 8th, and 9th of The 10 Commandments (Exodus 34). Our government does agree with Scripture – sometimes.

Obviously we CAN and DO legislate morals! So the question is: what morals do we choose to legislate? The answer: more than you would believe!

Rev. Ravi Zacharias, who has a radio program titled “Let My People Think”, said the non-Christian world politicizes morality while they moralize politics. He is correct. Many of our politicians seem to agree or disagree with the Bible depending on how many votes they can garner. What baffles me is that sometimes our government – or even a single judge – listens to a very small minority of the population and makes laws that override the desires and morals of the vast majority. What kind of logic is that for a Democracy?

Example: The US Supreme Court just handed down its 5-4 ruling that homosexual marriages are constitutional. (This is only one of many instances where our government has politicized morality.) This ruling puzzles me for three reasons: 1) the ruling has nothing to do with the constitution, 2) most Americans are against same-sex marriages, and 3) according to the constitution, it is the Congress (state and federal) who is supposed to make laws, not the court.

But why is marriage a moral issue? The Bible clearly specifies that human marriage was created by God Himself; therefore God is the only One who has the right to decide how marriage is to be employed. God determined that marriage is between a man and a woman, but our politicians decided that Almighty God is wrong.

We also have a built-in dichotomy in our government. Some well-known government officials can commit crimes and lie about it, and we overlook it; while other well-known officials commit crimes and lie about it, and are prosecuted. The “morality” of the issue seems to depend on what side of the political fence the official is on. They moralize politics.

However if it’s a “hate” crime, THAT is bad! Amazingly, this is a double-legislation of morals.

Friends, we legislate morals all the time. But we have a problem!

We are legislating OUT wholesome, healthy core values and morals, and legislating IN anti-Biblical values and morals which go against our national heritage, and weakens our nation both morally and politically.

Morals – right versus wrong – is a Biblical issue. Galatians 6:7 says, “Don’t be misled. You can’t ignore God and get away with it.” Therefore, if we don’t revert to using Scripture as our legislative standard as we formerly did, we are in trouble.

Living With Conviction

Did you read this report? “With conviction, the elderly pastor conned the former convict into surrendering after the ex-con attempted to con the pastor out his life savings. And with conviction the jury convicted the ex-con.”

Are you dizzy yet? When I read that news brief, it made my head spin. So, get a cup of coffee, and let’s look at the word Conviction. What does it mean?

It comes from Latin: convincere; which means: to conquer, to overcome decisively; to firmly persuade. Today the verb form is: to argue successively, persuade, convince or convict; and the noun is: conviction. So, a conviction is a firm belief that I hold on to. And many times, a conviction is not just an idea that I believe; it is often a value or set of values upon which I have based my life.

Therefore, convictions are the criteria by which I make important decisions, and are the foundation of my character. And when we act on convictions, society often changes.

Thomas was a man of convictions. He saw a problem. He felt a conviction in his heart and mind about it. He prayed about it. Then, facing derision and opposition, he decided to do something about it.

Born in Glastonbury, England in 1845, Thomas was a dentist, a minister in the Wesleyan Methodist Connexion (which became the Wesleyan Methodist Episcopal Church), and disapproved of both slavery and alcohol.

Already understanding the detrimental results of alcoholism on society, Thomas became concerned about the use of alcohol (the sacramental wine) in Holy Communion. He objected to the use of alcohol anyway, had a pastoral concern for recovering alcoholics, and wanted children to partake in the sacrament of communion. As a communion steward in the church, Thomas Bramwell decided he had to do something about it.

He read about Ephraim Wales from Concord, Massachusetts who had finally achieved his goal of “developing the perfect sweet and palatable grape.” Ephraim named the grape after his hometown, Concord. Thomas also knew about Louis Pasteur’s process of retarding the spoilage of milk, called pasteurization, and applied that process to the Concord grape to prevent the fermentation process. After developing his unfermented communion alternative, he eventually convinced his church and many others to use the unfermented wine.

So, there you have it. A centuries-long practice of using alcoholic wine in communion was overturned in some churches by a prohibitionist. Today entire denominations decry any use of alcohol in any form, including in Holy Communion.

But society also changed in other areas due to this man’s convictions. His full name is Thomas Bramwell Welch, and he – with his son, Charles – had developed Welch’s Grape Juice. This achievement not only gave us unfermented wine, but marked the beginning of the processed fruit juice industry.

Let me add a few other tidbits of Welch trivia. In 1913 Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan served Welch’s Grape Juice at a state diplomatic event instead of the traditional fermented wine. In 1914 the Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels, forbade wine on naval ships and [temporarily] substituted Welch’s Grape Juice.

In 1918 the Welch Company developed its first jam and called it Grapelade. The U.S. Army bought the first entire batch, and the G.I.s clamored for it when they returned to civilian life. In 1923 the world-famous Concord Grape Jelly was introduced, and as you see in this picture, it is still my all-time favorite jelly.

And in 1949, Welch became a pioneer in the frozen fruit juice industry by introducing Welch’s Frozen Grape Juice Concentrate. An added bonus is that in 2002, researchers reported the potential cancer-fighting benefit of the purple grape juice.

One man who had strong convictions changed society for the better. But a simple research can reveal thousands of others who, with conviction, changed our world: some for the better, and some for the worse.

How about you? Are you a person with convictions, or do you just float through life and let other people establish your political, religious, and personal ideology? Living with and acting on convictions will produce the foundation in life we need in order to determine our direction and set our goals in life. Living with convictions produce character and integrity.

Pray about it, and ask the Lord to help you establish and act on Godly convictions. You just might change the world.

Does God Decree Everything That Happens?

This topic has been a major debate among theologians, and is based on a religious philosophy that predates Christianity by several hundred years. That belief, which had been picked up by a portion of the Church, wrongly teaches that God engineers and approves everything that happens – including theft, murder, and rape.

Some folk refer to that belief as Calvinism, but that is short-sighted because John Calvin got it from St. Augustine, but it doesn’t stop there. Here is a brief history lesson. Please understand that this is an ongoing debate among theologians, and it won’t end with this writing. But I will, nevertheless, shed some historical light on the subject.

Augustine’s mother (Monica) was a Christian, but Augustine immersed himself in immorality and pagan religions. One of the religious philosophies that he used to condone his lifestyle was belief in the goddesses called, in modern English, The Fates.

The Fates, or The Moirae, were supposedly goddesses who assigned to everyone at birth his or her personal destiny in every matter of life. 

The three main goddesses were: Klotho (spinner), who spins the thread of life for the person; Lakhesis (apportioner of lots), who measures the length of the thread; and Atropos (she who cannot be turned), who actually cuts the thread of life. At birth, the Fates supposedly predetermined the entire life of the individual. That included everything the person thought, did, said, what happened to him, what was done to him, or what was said about him. This concept gave Augustine the freedom to live a debauched lifestyle, because he figured the gods predestined him to live this way.

Augustine eventually returned to his Christian upbringing, but he created a Christianized version of the belief. Some call it fatalism. That is, we cannot change what has been predestined for us. And he misapplied Romans 8:29 to support him. It says, “For whom he [God] did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his son.” The emphasis was meant to be on foreknow, but Calvin put it on predestinate. Paul wasn’t talking about God choosing whom He will save. Instead, he is talking about God’s omniscience – the fact that God knows everything, including who will eventually ask the Lord to forgive him or her and allow them into the Kingdom of God.

However, according to Augustine, based on the Fates, some people have been predestined to go to hell no matter their lifestyle (good or bad), while others have been predestined to go to heaven – again, with either good or bad lifestyle. He believed our lifestyle and decisions about serving God do not change our fate or our destiny. God decided for us.

The Church carried that erroneous belief through the centuries and John Calvin picked it up. In the Reformation, Calvin broke with the Church but brought this concept with him. Developing his theology, Calvin produced an acronym called TULIP, and you can look it up on the internet.

Calvin formalized his doctrine and wrote The Institutes of the Cristian Religion. His view of predestination is in book 3 chapter 21 titled, “Of The Eternal Election, By Which God Has Predestinated Some To Salvation, And Others To Destruction.” Some call this hyper-Calvinism. It is not Biblical because there are many verses in the Bible that prove God wants everyone to turn from a life of sin. God wants everyone to live a good life and go to heaven.

In attempting to prove God’s ultimate and total sovereignty (which is Biblical), Calvin taught that God planned for Lucifer in heaven to rebel (which is anti-Biblical). The concept goes against Scripture and against the nature of God. Scripture emphasizes over and again that God is love, and loves all mankind. That’s why Jesus came to earth to rescue us from destruction.

Believing that nothing happens unless God specifically ordains it impugns God’s integrity. Here are several examples.

In Genesis 3, God told Adam NOT to partake of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. But Adam disobeyed. Therefore, Calvin taught that God both planned and ordained the disobedience. That would make God flaky, capricious, the and unstable; therefore, untrustworthy.

God planning and approving every single thing that ever could happen in the world, as Augustine picked up from Grecian mythology and Calvin taught, would mean that God plans and approves the abduction of little children. It also means that God plans and approves of the people who rape and brutally murder the children. It means that God makes sure that it happens. Where is the love of God in this evil work?

God planning and approving everything that happens in the world means God is the author, instigator, and approver of all the heinous evil and brutality the world has ever experienced. And this is supposedly all for the glory of God.

PICT0217Friends, that is not the God of the Bible.

God is omniscient, so He KNOWS what will happen. But knowing it and making it happen are two entirely different concepts. And we must never forget: God is Love.

Think about this. The first commandment states, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” But many in the world do worship other gods. So is God contradicting Himself by making people worship false gods? No. We must understand the disobedient nature of man and the immutable (unchangeable) nature of Almighty God.

Is God still sovereign when evil people behead others? Of course He is, but God doesn’t ordain murder. The sixth Commandment says, “Thou shalt not commit murder.”

God is sovereign and His ultimate plan will be accomplished in spite of evil humanity who disobeys Him. But the question is: will we participate in God’s plan, or will God need to set us aside for disobeying Him?

God did not create robots to mechanically perform His every wish. That would never bring glory to God. Instead, God created both angels and humans with the ability to choose to obey and worship Him. Obedience glorifies God.

According to Scripture, our rejection of God determines our eternal punishment, but our acceptance determines our eternal rewards. (John 3:16, 2 Peter 3:9)

I Can’t Get Lost

1951 Del Mar FairWhen I was five years old, my parents took my four sisters and me to the San Diego County Fair in Del Mar, California. My paternal grandparents went with us, so Dad was not paying as close attention to me as he normally did.

We entered the east gate and the first exhibit we encountered was the reptile building. Snakes, especially big ones like the boa constrictor and anaconda, had my attention. Boas and anacondas are non-poisonous constrictors and kill their prey by squeezing them. Green anacondas grow to about 30 feet, weigh up to 550 pounds, and live about 10 years; while boas can grow to 14 feet long, weigh up to 100 pounds, and live up to 30 years. Female Boas can give birth to litters of up to 60 live babies that are two feet long.

I was spell-bound by the size of these critters and was fascinated by the way they moved, so I didn’t notice when the family walked away. Dad probably called my name and expected me to follow, but I heard nothing because of the high volume of thoughts racing around the corridors of my little mind.

At one point, a sheriff walked up to me and asked, “Son, are you lost?” Startled, I said, “I’m not lost because I know where daddy’s car is.” Because of the potential for getting lost in a crowd, dad ALWAYS made sure we knew where the car was.

When the sheriff asked me where my parents were, I looked around, and not seeing them I said, “I guess my mommy and daddy are lost.” Chuckling at the rationale of this five-year-old, the sheriff took my hand and said, “Well, let’s go and find them.”

We hadn’t walked far when I saw dad walking quickly toward us. I said, “That’s my daddy!” When the sheriff asked, “What’s his name?” I said, “Daddy.”

“Well”, he said, chuckling again, “I guess your daddy’s not lost anymore.” After explaining the situation to dad, he suggested to him “go light on the boy” and not punish me. But he also advised him to keep a tighter rein on me.

This concept of not being lost has followed me through life. It doesn’t matter where I am, I’m never lost because I always have a fixed point of reference. Whether it was daddy’s car as a child or my home as an adult, I always have a “home base.”

Oh, I might have an interesting time finding a place where I have never been – Carol calls that getting lost. But for me, “being lost” is not knowing how to get back to the house. But I don’t get lost because even without a GPS unit, I always know how to get back home and that brings comfort to my soul. I have a deep-seated security knowing where home is and how to get there.

Carol seldom drives on our trips because I enjoy driving. But one time I needed a break so she drove for several hours. When I woke, she said that she might have made a wrong turn and wanted to know what to do. I waited for a few minutes to see the next highway sign. I knew we were in Illinois, so when I saw South I-57 I said “We’re not lost. Keep going until you reach I-70 and turn west. That will take us toward Saint Louis, and that’s the direction for going home.”

When Carol and I decide to stop traveling, we know that someday we will have one last trip to make. That will be an exciting trip because we know our destination – heaven. We know how to get there – having accepted Jesus into our lives, He will take us. We know how long it will take to get there – immediately upon breathing our last here on earth. And we won’t have to pack anything because we will take nothing with us.dscn0464

Oh, at times I forget to follow Jesus closely, such as when I lingered too long at the reptile building at the fair. But when I ask the Lord to forgive me, I quickly get back on track.

Jesus, as presented in the Bible, is my fixed point of reference. Because I’ll serve Him and live for Him to the best of my ability for the rest of my life, I’ll never be lost. Have you made appropriate plans for your last trip?

A Sword for the Lord, and for Gideon

What’s your favorite Bible story? Daniel dropping in to visit the Lions? Noah surfing the grandest of all tsunamis? David creating a giant headache? They are all-time favorites for most of the church, but have you considered the story of Gideon?

This story, found in chapters six through eight in the book of Judges, is the foundation for one of the great ministries in modern times.

While in Los Alamos, NM, I was invited to a dinner hosted by the local Gideon camp. Meeting at the Morning Glory Bakery, President John Elder, Randy Rowan, Charles Knoop, Kevin Albright and others were in attendance. I have known of the Gideons most of my life, and have known these men for several decades.

When I returned to Siloam Springs, Paul Kimball surprised Carol and me by inviting us to a Gideon camp dinner at the John Brown University. There were about fifty attending, including Marshall Orcutt, Paul Kimball, and Milton Lundberg.

The Gideon’s devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ, and their love and concern for people is unsurpassed. But why do they call themselves Gideons?

I can’t tell the whole story here, but look at several data points. The Angel of the Lord chose Gideon to do an impossible job. When Gideon destroyed the village idol as a result of the angelic visit, the townsfolk wanted to kill him. I laugh when reading what Joash, Gideon’s dad, said, “If Baal is a god, let him fight for himself. It’s his altar that has been pulled down.”

The Lord gave Gideon a fool-proof battle plan; and because Gideon obeyed, 300 men overcame more than 135,000 of the enemy. A few is an overwhelming majority if God is in it. Remember this: God is not impressed with our ability; God is not depressed with our inability; But God is blessed with our availability.

In 1899 three men – Samuel Hill, John Nicholson, and William Knight – banded together and formed an association. They decided to call themselves “Gideons”. They met for several years. The group grew, and they felt impressed to distribute Bibles. Then in 1908, Pastor E. R. Burkhalter, First Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Kentucky suggested in a Ministerial Union meeting that “Gideon Bibles be placed in all local hotels and that the Union be responsible for the funds.”

Quoting Paul Kimball, “The Gideons International serves as a missionary arm of the local church, distributing over 1,000,000 copies of Bibles and Life Books every 5 days. Every Scripture distributed is funded by contributions from churches and individuals, and from the Gideon Bible Card Program. 100% of these contributions go for the purchase and placement of Scriptures (Gideon dues cover overhead). Millions of people around the world have no access to Scriptures, but with the support of generous contributors, Gideons ensure that many of them have a copy of God’s Word for their very own.”

Randy Rowan said, “Many of the public high schools in the USA no longer allow the Gideons to come on campus and distribute scriptures; so the Life Book program was developed so Christian students can share the gospel with their peers. The Life Book is a gospel of John that has handwritten comments and questions in the margins that reflect the perspectives of four high school students (male and female of different ages) and one adult. In the back of the Life Book is a gospel presentation in the form of a series of questions followed by a section on problems commonly faced by teenagers, along with scriptural advice on how to address those problems. Any pastor or youth pastor may order up to 1,000 of these Life Books free of charge at www.thelifebook.com.”

In 1908, The Gideons International placed the first Bible in a hotel room in Montana. Today, as of August of 2019, Gideons are organized in 200 countries around the world. Bibles and New Testaments are distributed by The Gideons International in 107 languages, and more than 2.3 billion Bibles and New Testaments have been placed through the Gideon ministry.

The Gideons are a few people doing an almost impossible task – attempting to distribute Scriptures to the entire world. The devil’s forces fight them but God gave them an excellent battle-plan. I encourage you, both reader and church, to support them financially. The Gideons pay the overhead themselves, so every dollar you give buys Scriptures – and saves lives.

May the Lord bless you as you support the Gideons International organization.

Gnosticism

The Bible says Jesus was tempted in every way humans are tempted. But Jesus couldn’t have been tempted if he was God (James 1:12-14). Doesn’t Jesus’ temptation prove that he was merely human?

I’ve been asked that question several times through the years, and it reflects on Gnosticism. So, let’s address the general concept of Gnosticism. Many of the gnostic philosophies can be summed in this (over-simplified) statement: Salvation is attained by gnosis – knowledge; Jesus’ death wasn’t necessary, and may not have even taken place; He may not have been God, or he may not have had a physical body.

The controversies continue. Everything that can be questioned about the God-man Jesus Christ has been questioned. The simultaneous natures of deity and humanity united in the person of Jesus Christ have been debated, argued, and killed over throughout church history. Let’s look into it.

The Bible says: 1) Jesus was tempted. 2) Jesus is God. And 3) God cannot be tempted. However, Matthew 22:29 applies here which says, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures….” Also II Timothy 2:15: “Study (Scripture) to show yourself approved (honorable, faithful) to God; a workman (student) who properly divides (discerns and understands) the word of truth.”

Here are a few Gnostic heresies that date back to Jesus’ time.

  • The Ebionites and Arians denied the deity of Christ.
  • The Docetists denied the reality of His physical body, stating He was merely a spirit or an emanation from God.
  • The Apollinarians claimed Jesus had a human body and the spirit of God, but not a human spirit.
  • The Unitarians said He was adopted as (or became) deity only at His baptism.
  • Some said He was the first man, Adam or the archangel, Gabriel.
  • Some say that our creator-god is actually Lucifer.
  • Others claimed that Jesus was God before conception and after His resurrection, but not for His approximate 33 years on earth.

Talk about confusion! Yet they all pride themselves on having GNOSIS — knowledge. How can all those conflicting teachings be called gnosis, or knowledge? It doesn’t make any sense!

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The uniqueness – and controversy – of Christianity is the Person of Jesus Christ: He is the Divine human being. Matthew 4:1-10, Hebrews 2:17-18, and other Scripture, verify that Jesus was tempted in His humanity; yet John 1:1-3 and other Scripture verify that He is God. This is not a conflicting doctrine blindly imposed on us to accept without question; rather, it is a sobering conclusion founded on strong evidence. This can be difficult to understand, for there is no other God-man in history with whom to compare.

However, back to the question: James 1:13 (“…God cannot be tempted ….”) is not talking about Jesus. The concept of Messiah is not in this specific text. Rather, James was referring to a then-current error making the rounds that justified immorality, which was: “God tempted me.” Remember, the Gnostics believed that our creator-god was evil. James was refuting that heresy while giving general encouragement to the church to live righteously. And He differentiated between Father Yahweh and Jesus the Messiah by referring specifically to Father Yahweh (verse 17: “Every good gift…comes down from the Father….”).

Jesus was and is God: John 1:1 (NLT) “In the beginning, the Word already existed. He was with God, and He was God.” Verse 14 lets us know that “the Word” here is Jesus. Jesus in His humanity was tempted in every manner as man can be tempted (Hebrews 4:15); where Father YHVH was never human, therefore, cannot be, nor has ever been, tempted. He is “un-temptable”. And our Creator God is a Good and Loving God; but Lucifer’s final destination is what the Bible calls the lake of fire. 

Much of the New Testament was written to combat the various heresies of Gnosticism; or, as the Apostle Paul said, to combat “a different gospel.” Anything that teaches differently from or in conflict with the message of salvation and Jesus Christ as found in the Bible is a different gospel – which is a different way to attempt to gain salvation; a different way to try to go to heaven.  But it can’t be done. It’s teaching a different understanding of Jesus Christ, or a teaching about a different Jesus altogether such as the cosmic christ

Salvation and eternal life are gained only through the knowledge of and the acceptance of our Lord Jesus Christ. Read about Him. Study about Him. Get to know Him. 

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.

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.