What is a Christian?

Some time ago, a young man asked me several questions about Christianity. Noting his confusion as we talked, I asked, “Do you know what a Christian is?” “Sure” he said. “It’s someone who goes to church; one who does good works. I know: It’s someone who loves his neighbor. Right?”

I said, “Well, all that is included in being a Christian, but there’s more to it.”

“Really? How about one who thinks positive thoughts and prays a lot?”

“No. Many non-Christians do that, too.”

“Well then, what about a person who teaches Bible studies? Or who preaches? Yeah, I know: how about being a missionary?”

“That doesn’t define a Christian, either.”

Mystified, he said, “I thought Christians did all that!”

“Yes, various Christians do all that, but so do many non-Christians. Some people preach and teach about the Bible out of a sense of duty. Many think of preaching as a vocation or think they are helping God by preaching. That’s how it was with John and Charles Wesley. They preached about Jesus for several years and led prayer meetings. They even started a Believer’s Club and were missionaries before they, themselves, accepted Christ into their lives.”

“Okay; I guess I don’t know. You tell me: what is a real Christian?”

“I’ll be glad to. They were first called Christians in Antioch. That’s a town in what we now call Turkey. Pagans used the word ‘Christian’ to mock the followers of Christ by accusing them of trying to imitate Jesus.”

“So, a Christian is someone who tries to act like Jesus?”

“Yes, but not in a phony or hypocritical way. Real Christians are truly learning to be like Jesus. The word Christian means of Christ or like Christ.”

“Oh, come on now – do you expect me to believe that? I mean, I consider myself a Christian but I don’t act like Jesus.”

Acknowledging his honesty, I read First John 3:2 to him; “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and we have not yet been shown what we will be in the future. But we know that when Christ comes again, we will be like him, because we will see him the way he really is.”

“All right then; how do I become like Jesus?” he asked.

“You can become like someone if you know him personally – or have studied him. I know my mom & dad because I spent time with them through the years, and got to know him very well. In the same way, you will get to know Jesus by reading and studying the Bible and praying. Joining a Bible study will help. Read the Gospel of John, chapters 5-10 and ask Jesus to show you how to live and think. You’ll need to ponder or contemplate what Romans 12:2 says: ‘Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.’ God won’t change your thinking for you, and you can’t do it without His help. It’s a team effort. And you should keep in mind that your actions are a result of your thinking.

“The reason so many Christians act like and talk like the distorted world is that they want to be accepted by their worldly friends. Because even many Christians don’t understand what Christianity really is, they put more importance on identification with and acceptance of people than on living for and honoring Jesus. That results in confused Christians and a weak church – even increases confusion in the non-Christian world.

“If a child grows up in the South, he’ll talk like a southerner. But if he grows up in the North, he’ll talk like a northerner because we act and sound like the people we spend time with. Therefore, identifying with people who live a lifestyle that does not honor Christ, trains us to reject Christ and Christianity, while avoiding those worldly lifestyles can give us time to learn to live a Godly life.

“Basically, a Christian is: One who has repented of sin, who has been forgiven by our Heavenly Father, who has decided to turn away from things that offend God, and who chooses to actively live for Him. These are only a few of the identification marks of a Christian, and it takes a person of high integrity to openly and publicly identify with Christ. Christians are not perfect, but they’re going in the right direction. Jesus publicly gave Himself as a sacrifice for us; are you willing to publicly proclaim that you will live for Jesus?”

The young man said, “You just taught me a lot. I want to think about it.”

Dear reader, will you think about it, too?

Husband/Wife Relationships

Throughout history, there has been a general misunderstanding about the relationship between husbands and wives. Actually, the misunderstanding has been between men and women in general, but we’ll limit our talk today about the family. Looking at the concept from a different perspective, there is a major misconception about what the relationship is supposed to be. Pictured here are my grandparents.

My brother, Colonel Paul E. Linzey, Chaplain, US Army (retired), wrote an article for a US Navy group called the USS Yorktown, CV-5, Survivors’ Club; and Paul graciously allowed me to reprint his column here in its entirety. I believe it properly presents the desired husband/wife relationship.

Designed to Help

The first term in the Bible for couples is not husband, wife, spouse, partner, or mate. The first word is “Helper.” After God made man, he looked and said, “Hmmm. Something’s not good here. He needs help” (Genesis 2:18).

Our first role in the marriage is to help. But when God made the woman to be the man’s helper, it doesn’t mean she is less important. It doesn’t mean he is the main character.

Throughout the Bible, God is called our helper. In Deuteronomy 33:29, “The Lord is my shield and helper.” Psalm 10:14, “God, you are the helper to the fatherless,” and Psalm 46:1, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”

We tend to think of a helper as someone who’s less important, a sidekick who is subordinate. Not the hero, but a support role. This isn’t what God had in mind when he created marriage.

“Helper” in the Bible is just the opposite. God is our helper, and he’s certainly not the sidekick. He’s the strong one. The same term is used for the first woman, with no hint that the woman is of lesser value.

In marriage, a woman represents God to her husband. Similarly, a man represents God to his wife. Each of us needs help in many ways. God is our help, but he often uses people to be his hand extended, his love expressed.

My wife is a teacher. When she moved to a new office across campus, I helped move her books, files, and other stuff. When I was yelling at my computer, my wife solved the problem and taught me a few things about the software.

We all need help. What if we started thinking about how we can be a helper? Can our words bring healing instead of pain? Can our actions invite peace instead of strife? Can our behavior encourage rather than tear down our partner?

Life is hard in many ways. We need someone to come alongside, put an arm around us, and be there for us. God invented marriage so we’d have a friend to help when the going gets tough.

I highly value Paul’s insights, and I believe he is right. Visit his web site at https://paullinzey.com for more information, and to see the books he has written.

Carol, my precious wife, is my best friend. After nearly 54 years of (mostly) wedded bliss, we still learn from, depend on, and help each other. Knowing each other, “warts & all”, we have fun. We playfully pick on and lightheartedly laugh at each other’s mistakes; and we play Scrabble every night. But we don’t mock or hurt each other. Instead, we share insights and encourage each other in our hurts, and whole-heartedly rejoice in each other’s successes and accomplishments…even when she wins at Scrabble.

Life has changed in the past hundred years. Women, wives, mothers may also be teachers, CEOs, and political leaders. Also, men often fulfill their vocational responsibilities at home. Household chores and responsibilities are now shared more equally by both husband and wife. But no matter what role they take at home or in the public arena, neither one is less or more important than the other.

The marriage relationship must be addressed and worked on every day for harmony to reign in the home. Difficulties normally surface when one or the other is not doing what God asks of him or her. But never mock or demean your spouse. Pray for each other.

What does the Lord want of you? That’s also what you should pray about and decide for your particular family. Whatever you decide, honor your spouse. A major side benefit of this is that by honoring your spouse, you honor the Lord and bring honor to yourself.

Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will direct your paths.”

As a reminder, visit Paul’s web site at https://paullinzey.com.

Same Ground – Different Results

Carol and I love nature. We both were raised “in-town”, but we thoroughly enjoy driving along the coastlines, through forests, prairies, mountains, and even deserts. There is beauty in all of nature even though some people cannot see it.

The first time Carol’s mother drove from Washington State to New Mexico, she thought New Mexico was a wasted desert. However, after living there for several years, she learned to enjoy its beauty and didn’t want to leave. New Mexico is called “The Land of Enchantment” for good reason.

But we are also farmers at heart. We enjoy planting seeds, flowers, bushes, and trees and watching them grow. In 1974 we planted a Banana-Apple tree sapling in our front yard in Los Alamos, NM. We moved to Tulsa in 1978 so we didn’t have the privilege of eating its fruit at the 5-year mark. But in 1988 we moved back to Los Alamos (not to the same house) and visited the old place. Believe-it-or-not, the tree had grown so large that it nearly overshadowed the front yard! We had done a good job in preparing the ground prior to planting it, and the underlying soil was good for the tree. The owners gladly allowed us to take as many apples as we wanted, and we belatedly enjoyed the fruit of our labors. The apples were delicious in pies, strudel, crisp – and eating raw. They were good!

Even though I understand nature and farming, something always surprises me. I plant anything that crosses my fingertips in the same dirt. I give them all the same water. I treat them all with the same care. But different things sprout out of that same dirt. Although the same environment may be used, onions, potatoes, corn, yams, cucumbers, zucchini, beets, carrots and the rest are programmed to grow at different rates, to different sizes, to look differently, and to taste differently. The same ground produces different results.

The environment is basically the same – dirt, water, air, cultivation, weeding, debugging, etc. – but with minor variations, the results can be remarkable! We fertilize the ground and adjust the nutrients and minerals to match the needs of the seeds or bulbs, and that produces a difference in the quality of the product. If I kept everything exactly the same, something would still grow; but seeds respond differently to variations in the environment.

Do you know that we plant seeds into our own minds? Day after day we watch or listen to television, radio, the theater, DVDs, CDs, etc. We listen to all kinds of music and bombard our bodies with various levels of noise. We read books, magazines, newspapers, advertisements. We listen to audio books, gossip, slander, political debates, classroom teaching, sermons. What goes into the eyes and ears enters our minds and becomes part of us. Stuff is being planted into the garden of our minds day after day, and what we fertilize grows the best. The method of “fertilizing” what is in our mind is called “meditation”; and a simple definition of meditation is: “spending time thinking about what we have seen and heard.”

Psalm 19:14 says, ‘Let the words of my mouth and the meditation [thoughts] of my heart [mind] be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

You should ask yourself: Is God pleased with my thoughts?

We also “plant” seeds into other people’s lives. What we say to others – whether good or bad – produces a harvest. We either help others live a higher quality, more productive life, or we stunt their growth to where they don’t live up to their God-given potential. We must assure that we make positive comments for people to meditate on.

However, don’t confuse “negative comments” with “corrective statements.” Life doesn’t consist of a “Pollyanna World” or a 100% positive environment; therefore, we should learn to make necessary corrective statements in the proper attitude. Also, we should learn to make corrective adjustments in our own attitude. This is a lifetime process and I am still working on it.

I hope you understand that our minds are fertile ground, and what we see and hear eventually produces a harvest: some good fruit and some bad. Our character may be blossoming and maturing to where we can bless God and man, or it may be stunted as a sterile tree planted in contaminated ground. Sometimes a sterile tree looks wonderful until “harvest time”. That’s when the real nature of the tree is revealed. (Read Matthew 13:25-30 about the wheat and tares.)

Friend, what’s growing in the garden of your mind? What do you meditate on?

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.

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.

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)

The Exploding Tire

While traveling along the interstate highways, you’ve you seen burned areas alongside the road. A few weeks ago in northern Oklahoma, we saw a roadside burn that covered over a square mile. Years ago a primary cause of highway fires was burning cigarettes tossed out the windows. Some drivers are still either stupid or ignorant and continue doing that; but currently fires are more often started by smoldering rubber from disintegrating truck tires. How does that happen?

IMG_2208.JPGThe interaction between the rotating tires and pavement generates a lot of friction, and friction generates heat. The faster the movement, the higher the heat. Rub your hands together and see what I mean. At 70 mph, truck tires (at an average diameter of 41 inches and inflated to 100 psi) rotate about 34,433 times each hour and can attain temperatures of 120 degrees F. This heat can raise the tire pressure to about 120 psi.

Sometimes the drivers or maintenance personnel fail to check the tires for proper inflation, and an underinflated tire will get much hotter. And if the truck is overloaded, the problem is compounded. If the heat and pressure get too high, chemical decomposition in the tire material takes place which weakens the tire structure and the resulting gasses increase the internal pressure.

Several other reasons a tire can get too hot are: excessive truck speed, very high road temperature, unequal pressures on tires mounted on double wheels, and over-heated brakes. The consequences can be dangerous; and whether the tire explodes or unravels, public safety becomes an issue.

The material from a tire that unravels and flies apart over several miles is already Semi-Truck-Tire-Blowout-300x200.jpgsmoldering. If the hot rubber lands off the road, the heat can ignite dried grass and weeds. The deteriorating tire also leaves a trail of debris on the highway which presents a safety hazard.

The other problem is when the tire ends its life in a violent explosion. The explosion and resultant shrapnel can cause serious and even fatal injuries.

Some time ago as we were heading west toward Amarillo on I-40, we were about to pass an 18-wheeler when we heard a sound that resembled an army tank firing a round. Simultaneously, a cloud of smoke and dust and a barrage of shattered tire erupted from the truck’s rear wheel-assembly.

In that event, I didn’t have time to think things through and plan my responses. Instead, I instantly reacted according to the training I had previously received. I instantly checked Isaacs-Flying-Debris-01.jpgthe rear-view mirror for traffic. No one was close. I then hit the brake and swerved across both lanes to avoid the larger pieces of tire that were hurtling through the air. Superheated rubber fragments set grass on fire and other shrapnel damaged our windshield. Having avoided the larger pieces, we received no dents in the car. It was all over in four seconds.

But the secondary problem – the grass fire – was also initiated. Have you seen signs that say “Don’t drive into smoke?” I hope you obey them because grass-fire smoke is dense and can reduce vision to less than ten feet. However, the fire was not our problem, but it did become a problem for those who came behind us.

Do you know that sometimes people have a “blow-out” in life? It may be losing a job, death of a loved one, a major health issue, drugs, alcohol, anger, or any of a hundred other things. And the “shrapnel” – some form of emotional upheaval or even pots, pans, and books flying through the air – appears to be aimed at those closest to the situation. We need to know how to avoid the shrapnel, and those who come behind need to know how to safely “drive through the smoke.” What do we do?

We need to remember that the explosion is not really meant for us, so don’t take the hit personally. But we can’t wait to “get trained” at the critical moment; we need to train ahead of time. Our primary manual for learning how to respond is the Bible, and ourBible form of response should be anchored in the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Your pastor and counsellor can help, but remember Proverbs 3:5-6 – “Trust the Lord with all your heart, and don’t depend on your own understanding. Remember the Lord in all you do, and he will give you success.” And please read 1 Corinthians 13. There are only 13 verses in that chapter, and they give priceless advice to help us overcome interpersonal difficulties.

Let the wisdom that comes from God’s word guide you. Only then can you safely maneuver through the explosions and resulting shrapnel of life.

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.

All I Could Do Was Laugh

The computer manager where I worked at the National Laboratory told me my computer hard drive needed to be cleaned. We didn’t have the funding to for a new computer yet, so I needed to tune up the one I had.

“Okay, how do I go about it?”

Although I didn’t know much about computers at the time, Nolan was extremely computer savvy and he rattled off the instructions as he was leaving my office. What he said made sense, I understood what he said, and I figured I would do the job within a couple of days. But in my hurry I didn’t take notes.

My father taught me when I was in high school (over 55 years ago) to take notes when someone gives me instructions. Dad said, “Paper has a longer memory than you do. Write things down.” He was right, of course; therefore, I normally did record instructions – but forgot this time.

In my position I was involved in almost every aspect of our group’s operations. Later that day, I was called to check on one of our buildings that was emitting smoke. (A large fan motor mal-functioned and was smoking.) I investigated a forklift accident and wrote up the report: that took several days. (The critically-injured man lived.) Inspectors called me to check on potential radiation-contamination at another site. (It was only natural radiation that accompanied sunlight, but I still had to write the report.) Things like that kept me busy; and because of my many duties, I didn’t get to the project of cleaning my hard drive for several weeks.

But I finally got to the relatively simple task. After all, Nolan explained it very well.

Now, what was it that Nolan said? Oh yes: make sure you have all the software for the programs you use, and save all your work in a separate folder. Transfer that folder to an external hard drive. Then erase the resident hard drive and run the cleaning program. Afterwards, reinstall all software, then reinstall your work. Easy enough. I had four hours of dead time and decided to get it done.

After saving eight years of data into a separate folder, I erased the hard drive and ran the cleaning program. But after reinstalling the software, I ran into a problem: I couldn’t find the folder with my eight years of reports, investigations, presentations, spread-sheets, laboratory history, and myriads of other documentation.

Then I remembered: I had saved all my work – ALL OF IT – in a separate folder on my resident hard drive. I forgot to transfer it to an external hard drive.

Thinking of all that I had just lost, I got the worst sinking feeling I had ever felt in my entire life. IT’S ALL GONE!

I had two options: I could either cry, or laugh. Since crying wouldn’t help anyone, all I could do was laugh. And I did. Then I called Nolan.

He came to my office right away. After hearing my miserable tale of woe, Nolan said, “Believe-it-or-not, yesterday after you left, an idea came to my mind that wouldn’t leave. So I came to your office and I stayed until 9:00 pm backing up your hard drive. I now realize it was the Lord who prompted me to do that, and you’ve lost nothing.”

All I could do was laugh. But this time for JOY!

Nolan, a Bible teacher, reminded me of Romans 8:28 which says, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (NLT)” I was certainly grateful for God’s mercy in the work-place, and for Nolan’s timely obedience to God’s prompting.

But not everything turns out “good” like that. Tornados destroyed friends’ homes, dad died of cancer, two of my sister lost their houses in a fire — do these work for our good? Amazingly, they can.

If we keep our faith in God for Who He is (not for what we want or expect), we’ll grow in our relationship with Him. Things of earth are to be used while on earth, but all material things will eventually pass away (Matthew 24:35). It is our relationship with God that is eternal (Matthew 28:20).

When bad things happen, turn to the Lord. He really does love you. Trust Him in good and bad times, for this world is not our home. Memorize Romans 8:28, which says, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”

And, feel free to laugh.