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.

What Do You Own?

Several years ago, Carol and I were visiting my cousin and his wife, Jim and Paula, in California. One morning as we were taking out the trash, I stopped and said, “Jim, my car’s gone.” Jim said, “No; you parked it right over … Oh No! It is gone!”

Now, I wouldn’t blame you if you don’t believe me: but I didn’t get upset. Why? When Carol and I purchased the Envoy, we dedicated it to the Lord. And as we made the payments with the income God helped us earn, we used the car for God’s purposes. To put it bluntly: we didn’t own the car – God did. Nevertheless, we called OnStar.

Within 10 minutes OnStar located the vehicle. Apparently, someone claimed that we were illegally parked (we were not) and the car was towed away. Cousin Jim drove us to where the car was stored and we retrieved it. I’m not the most mature Christian on earth, but I’m wondering: did the Lord arrange this to test the depth of my relationship with and trust in Him? I don’t know. But let’s look into “ownership.”

The verb to own: to possess; keep control over; maintain mastery over something.

So, what do you consider to be your property? Clothing? Car? truck? Horses and cattle? Your job? House and land? Do you really own these things? You do if no one could ever take them from you. However, our government thinks they own everything. Quit paying taxes and some government official will assist you with their understanding. And don’t forget about thieves, landslides, earthquakes, and fires.

So who REALLY owns it all? Almighty God does. God, as the Creator, owns people, animals, and the land. Psalms 50:7-11 – “God says, ‘My people, listen to me…I do not need bulls from your stalls or goats from your pens, because 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.’”

Leviticus 25:23 – “The land really belongs to me…. You are only foreigners and travelers living for a while on my land.”

Friends, God owns everything. But He wants us to learn to take care of His stuff, so he has given us the privilege of being His stewards, managers, or guardians.

Corrie ten Boom told a pastor some years ago: “Pastor, let go of all the things you think you own. Otherwise, it will hurt when God pries them out of your hands.”

How about skills and abilities? First Corinthians 12 informs us that abilities and gifts are given by God. So God retains ownership of the wisdom, skills, and gifts, while loaning them to us.

So, is there anything in the world that we can claim as our own? Yes: we are supposed to “own” (possess, control) our emotions. Luke 21:19 says: “In your patience, possess your souls.” That means, “Endure the situation. Gain mastery or control over your mind and emotions. Don’t give in to the problems, and don’t be overcome by adverse circumstances.” THIS is where our ownership is revealed.

No one can take from us what we truly own! And what we own in this life are our thoughts, will, emotions, and our responses to what happens in life. No one can make us do what we don’t want to do. However, we can cave in to pressure, but that’s still our decision.

There is nothing wrong with having money and things—as long as we understand that we don’t own them. We are the stewards of what God loans us. And believe me: understanding that we are only stewards of God’s stuff greatly reduces the pressures, frustrations, and worries that ownership can place on us. Why? Because God is in charge, and we merely follow His directions.

God didn’t create robots, so He doesn’t control us. But with God’s help, we can own, possess, or control our emotions, desires, and passions; and while using God’s things for their intended purpose, we leave the ownership to God.

So what do you own? To repeat: you own your thoughts, will, emotions, and personal responses. And that sets the stage for owning a clear conscience with joy, peace, and contentment.

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.

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.

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)

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.

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.

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.