What is an Occult Religion?

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First of all, let’s clear up a misunderstanding. Many people confuse Occult with Cult, but the words are not the same. Occult has the same root as ocular, and involves the lack of sight or vision. It refers to “not apprehended by the mind; beyond the range of ordinary human understanding; secret or esoteric; of or pertaining to magic, astrology, or any system claiming use or knowledge of secret or supernatural powers or agencies.” Christianity does not fall into this category because it is an open religion. The Bible says that the heavens declare the glory of God;.Jesus came to reveal the Father, His majesty and power. We also have open Scripture upon which to base our faith.

It is true that in the Old Testament, God tell us that His ways are not our ways and He has wisdom that is beyond our understanding. However, the New Testament tells us that Jesus came to make His ways known to us. In fact, the last sentence in First Corinthians chapter 2 says, “We have the mind of Christ.” That means God’s thoughts and desires are available to those who truly love the Lord and live for Him.

Cult, on the other hand is “a specific system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and deity; a group having an exclusive ideology and ritual practices centered on sacred symbols; from cultus: cultivation, refinement; which is derived from colere: to tend, guard, cultivate, till.” Christianity and Judaism have sometimes been erroneously called cults. Why? Because although part of this description fits, Christianity and Judaism are not centered on symbols; but on God, Himself. Again, Christianity is an open religion. It is based on a relationship with God, not on feelings or unknowable mysticism.

Cult is etymologically related to culture, for culture also stems from colere. But culture took a turn in its meaning: it eventually added “cultivation through education” and “the intellectual side of civilization.”

Occult qualities have no rational explanation. For example, in the Middle-Ages, magnetism was sometimes called an occult quality. Newton’s theory that “gravity was effected through action at a distance” was harshly critiqued by his contemporaries as occult. Of course, they didn’t understand Newton’s concept.

All occult practices involve the invocation of a deity or deities. Therefore, occult systems are religions. Occult practices also include rituals and ceremonies which somewhat parallel traditional religions. For example, shamans – also called medicine men – are the healers and magicians of their tribes and villages as well as the religious or spiritual leaders.

Some folk attest that the traditional Judeo-Christian religions are also occult; however, there is a distinct difference when it comes to Worship. Where the occult is concerned with contacting the forces of nature (“the Force be with you”), spirits, or the imagined Masters of the Universe to affect a desired change, the true Judeo-Christian belief system is focused on worshiping, petitioning, and obeying Almighty God. True Christianity views the occult as being anything supernatural which is achieved by or through the work of Satan, evil spirits, or man himself.

Gnosticism, which has many branches and could have originated as early as 600 BC, was the basic occult philosophy that is addressed by a number of the New Testament letters. Of course, Gnosticism has its roots in the Ancient Mystery Religions which predates Noah’s flood. The Gnostics [“knowers”, or those with knowledge] believed that “knowledge” was the key to life; and that if we gained knowledge, we could achieve salvation – or at least, attain a higher spiritual position. There are several well-known organizations today which espouse the same philosophies. Rather than promoting a relationship with Jesus Christ or God the Father, they promote learning, attaining knowledge, seeking truth, or seeking light. One of the basic tenets of one organization denies the deity of Christ while exalting man. Today, the New Age Movement encompasses all of Gnosticism and a myriad of other occult religions.

It would take a number of books to list all the occult groups and their beliefs and practices, but here is something to consider:

Occult [read the definition above] practices include, but are not limited to: tarot card and palm readings, witchcraft and wizardry, self-realization, psychics, and horoscope dependency; praising and idolizing activities, music, and people; self-improvement and meditation systems that deny or circumvent Jesus and/or Jehovah God; any religion or organization that exalts the human body, mind, or spirit without depending on God, makes Lucifer equal to or greater than Jesus, makes man equal to or greater than God, or who worships anything, any spirit, or any god other than God in the Old Testament and Jesus Christ. Any religion or organization that says we can achieve or attain salvation, immortality, or perfect light without Jehovah or Jesus is an occult religion. The Bible gives us true knowledge, and leads us to our Creator, Almighty God.

Are You a Practicing Atheist?

A vast majority of you will say “No, I’m not an atheist,” while some will say “Yes, I am.” But why would I ask that question? Back to that in a minute.

Atheism has been defined as a lack of belief in God, a total denial of His existence, Atheist Symboland variations of the theme in between.  The word atheism comes from the Greek negative article “a” which means “no,” and “theos” which means “god.” Therefore, atheism is the belief that there is no god. Did you catch that? A belief that there is no God. On the other hand, many of us believe that there is a God, He is knowable, He loves us, and is involved with mankind.

The polytheistic Romans in Jesus’ day, who believed in hundreds of gods, accused Christians of being atheists simply because Christians believed ONLY in the HolyDSCN0464 Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit); while the Jews accused Christians of polytheism BECAUSE they believed in the Holy Trinity. The accusations depended on the point of reference. But that’s a story for another time. (This cross is on Mount Helix in San Diego County, just four miles from where I grew up.)

Many atheists probably don’t consider themselves anti-theists, but non-theists. Many are good, ethical, moral citizens, and strong Americans; and most atheists claim that atheism is not a belief system or a religion. But I call atheism a religion. Why?

In the atheist’s belief system: there is no God; nothing formed itself into a well-organized, majestic universe; organic life evolved from rocks; man evolved from … who knows?; there is no life after death; belief in God is wrong; and so on. But all of that is a matter of faith, and that is religion. Simply put: the atheist’s non-belief system is, by definition, a belief system. Biologist George Klein wrote: “I am an atheist. My attitude is not based on science, but rather on faith. The absence of a Creator, the non-existence of God, is my childhood faith, my adult belief, unshakable and holy.”

Many strong atheists are often aggressive in their conversations with theists and try to shoot holes in theistic beliefs. (And, sadly, many Christians are equally argumentative.) Atheists like to use logic and anti-biblical “evidences” to denounce God’s existence. However, I’ve had many interesting discussions with scientific atheists in the past, and most of them are still my friends because we didn’t hammer, degrade, insult, or malign each other. Rather, we expressed our beliefs – yes, religious beliefs – and allowed each other freedom of religion, freedom of thought, and freedom of expression.

Remember, we cannot change anyone’s mind. We must, as simply or as complex as the situation requires, present our beliefs and convictions to them and allow the Holy Spirit to work in their heart and mind.

Question MarkBut now I have several questions for you: If you are a Christian, are you a practicing atheist? Keep reading.

1.       Do you effectively deny God by your lifestyle: your language, actions, thoughts, motivations, work ethics, choice of humor, the places you go, what you watch at the theaters, on computer, or on television?

2.      When someone begins to bad-mouth God or another person, do you just sit by? Or worse, do you join in the negative conversation?

3.      If you attend church, do you attend for social purposes, out of obligation, or for business contacts?

4.     Without being abrasive or overbearing, do you openly proclaim Christ to the world, or do you hide your Christian faith in the social shadows?

5.      Would some folk be surprised if you told them you are a Christian?

A “yes” answer shows you are effectively denying God: being a practicing atheist. But if you claim to be a Christian, I want you to think about your relationship with God. Do you truly desire to live for God? I am not encouraging you to cram your religion down someone’s throat; that would be wrong. But we do need to openly, definitively “let our light shine” for the Lord – if indeed we are Christians. 

Matthew 10:32-33 says, “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I willBible.docx also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.”

Let’s not try to intimidate others, but let’s allow them to experience truth and life through our lives. Let’s give them a glimpse of Christ by the way we live.

Did God Create Evil?

When was the last time you heard that question? What was your answer? Or did you have a deer-in-the-headlights look on your face? The question is normally NOT asked in search of information, but either to strengthen the emotional barrier that blocks God out of a person’s life, or to hide some deep-seated hurts he is bearing. And he asks the question, knowing that he can shoot down most answers that people usually give. He’s done it many times and is good at it.

So, what IS the answer? You probably already know, but I’ll put it in a way that you can get a better handle on it. For starters, the following is a real interaction I heard back in California.

Challenger: “Did God make everything?” Christian: “Yes.”

Challenger: “That means God also made evil?” Christian: “No.”

Challenger: “Then God didn’t make everything?” Christian: “Well, uh …”

And the challenger was happy that he, once again, defeated a hapless Christian in a worthy debate.

But allow me to give you food for thought. I’ll ask several questions, but will also provide the answers since you’re not here to answer them for me.

Is there such a thing as cold? No, there is not. But we do have the concept of temperature where:

1) Absolute zero (absolutely no heat) is 459.67 degrees below zero F., minus 273.15 Celsius, and 0 on the Kelvin scale.

2) Fresh water freezes at sea level at 32 F, 0 C, and 273.15 Kelvin;

3) The average human temperature is around 98.6 F, 37 C, and 310.15 K;

4) 78 F in the house is 25.55 C, and 298.71 K.

So we cannot turn the cold up or down – we remove or add heat. And for the record, outer space (far away from stars and planets) is around 3 degrees Kelvin. If that makes you feel cold, put on a sweater or a jacket.

Is there such a thing as dark? Again, no. But we do have various intensities of light. Partial darkness (if it can be called that) is a reduction of the intensity of light, and total darkness is the total absence of light. The closest I have ever come to being in total darkness was in the big room of the Carlsbad Caverns – 700 feet below ground. They could not turn on the dark, but they did off the lights. And it was DARK!

Now we ask: Is there such a thing as evil? The answer once again is, no. Where cold is a reference to the reduction of heat, and dark is the reduction or absence of light, evil is the absence of or the rejection of the holiness of God. Evil is not a thing or a cause: evil is a result.

You may ask, “What about murder, rape, robbery, sexual deviancy, hatred, etc.?” I can tell you, on authority of Scripture, that none of that is in heaven where the pure holiness of God prevails.

The lower we set the temperature, the colder it gets. The lower the light setting, the darker it gets. So the lower the level of Godliness in our lives and in society, the higher will be the intensity of evil – murder, rape, sexual deviancy, drug abuse, etc.

Billy Graham never said, “If you will just stop living like you are, if you will just stop your sinning, you will become holy!” But he often said: “If you will come to Jesus and ask Jesus to forgive you for your sins, if you ask Jesus to come into your life, you can become a new person and learn to live for the Lord!”

We do not stop doing evil to become holy; but we come to Jesus and become holy and the result is that we stop doing evil. But learning to live for the Lord is a process: we do not become a mature Christian overnight.

If I trip and drop my coffee cup, I would not create a broken cup. Rather, the broken cup would be a result of my carelessness. Likewise, evil is not a thing or something created; rather, evil is the result of rejecting God – a lack of Godliness.

Our holy God did not create the devil, nor did he create evil. He created the angel Lucifer. But Lucifer – of his own free will – disobeyed, and evil is the result. Likewise, God did not create all the mess of humanity in this world. The mess is the result of rejecting a holy God.

If you want to see a reduction of evil, turn to the Lord and begin living for Him.

Are You Creating a Legacy?

Are you creating a legacy? That’s actually an invalid question, because you ARE creating DSCN1350ba legacy. There are two kinds: physical and spiritual. So, what kind and what quality of a legacy are you creating?

Webster’s dictionary says legacy is defined as something received from an ancestor or predecessor, or from the past. It also refers to the memory of those who have passed from this life and to what contributions they made to society while they were alive; and that reflects on the person’s character. So, if you were to leave this life in one, five, ten, or fifteen years from now, what legacy would you like to leave? How would you like to be remembered?

A funeral setting might help you think about it. When the person (parent, relative, friend, neighbor, whomever) in the casket was lowered into the ground and you left the cemetery, what left with you? Money? Land? Clothing? No. So if none of that left the cemetery with you, what did?  MEMORIES! The person’s character – exemplary or disappointing – does not get buried, but remains in the minds of all those who know him or her – or even know OF him.

I’ve read about a funeral where the talk of the town was how much the man loved people and how much he will be missed. Hundreds of people attended the funeral. But although the deceased didn’t have a penny to his name, he left a rich legacy. Another time I observed the funeral of a wealthy man where the attendance was minimal – not even all the family was there. Oh, they got their inheritance – the physical portion of the legacy – but the spiritual side was bankrupt. In that case the talk of the town was how the world will be better off without him.

Sadly, in the second funeral, even the money (physical legacy) that was left to the heirs will not, in the long run, help them live better lives. Their bitterness (spiritual legacy) will lead them to use their money unwisely, and they will be left with nothing but disappointing memories.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not against money: I could use a little more of it, myself.

That reminds me of what Tevye said in Fiddler On The Roof: “If money is a disease, may God smite me with it; and may I never recover!” Yes, that was intended to be humorous. In that film, Tevye’s legacy was (in spite of his faults): stability within the community.

Another way to view a legacy is a launching pad. It takes thousands of workers to build our rockets and space shuttles. I was on several of those teams. Each person designs, programs, or builds his own portion, then hands it (the legacy) to someone who takes the product to the next level. There is always someone who will pick up where we leave off. If we do our part well, we have created a good legacy. Then when all the parts are finally assembled into a rocket and space shuttle and placed on the launching pad, what happens? If the vehicle is assembled properly the passengers will safely reach the space station, the moon, or whatever destination has been programmed.

So, what legacy are you creating for those who come after you? Remember, the physical legacy is needed and helpful if used wisely. But it needs the support of a wholesome spiritual legacy to fully help family, friends, and society. Someone is going to take what you hand them and build on it. So, what do you have to give?

A.W. Tozer once said, “When a man of God dies, nothing of God dies. The legacy of the man lives on!”

Paul said in Galatians 6:7, “You will always reap what you sow.” And it has been proven throughout history that others will be either blessed or hurt by how we live. Proverbs 11:18 tells us that if we do what is right, we will be rewarded. Proverbs 22:9 informs us that those who share what they have with others will be blessed. Those three verses talk about our legacy.

So, what is the name of the legacy are you creating? Selfishness? Hedonism? Monetary? Loving? Giving? Godly? Altruism? Think about it: will people remember you for what you gave them, or for who you are? How will you be remembered?

The answer to that question will be your legacy.

Is Evolution a Religion?

All the talk about Darwinian evolution, punctuated evolution, punctuated equilibria, natural selection, convergent evolution, co-evolution, adaptive radiation, mutation, genetic drift, theistic evolution, intelligent design, Biblical creation, etc., can be confusing! In the midst of this confusion, I’ll attempt to take some mud out of the water.

First, we must understand that not all those who believe in evolution agree with Charles Darwin and not all those who believe in creation are Christians, for there are variations of each concept. Here are several important definitions:

  1. Hypothesis – a conjecture; an unsubstantiated idea. Everyone has many.
  2. Theory – an hypothesis with some substantiation, but not yet proven. Everyone has several.
  3. Fact – something that has been proven. Hopefully we all know at least one.
  4. Religion – a) a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or groups; b) a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.

Side-stepping the Bible, Darwin was trying to understand the common ancestor of life which might point to the origin of life, and many modern scientists are looking for the unifying force that ties the universe together – whatever that means. Both correctly share the idea that there must be one original spark of life – somewhere – from some place.

Some hypothesize that we may have been seeded or planted by civilizations from other solar systems or galaxies, while others go straight to the hypothetical Big Bang. But neither hypothesis provides a plausible answer.

Does it surprise you that many of the strongest supporters of evolution are atheists? The March 9, 1907 edition of the New York Times refers to Ernst Haeckel as the “celebrated Darwinian, and founder of the Association for the Propagation of Ethical Atheism.” Conversely, a study was conducted in 2011 which revealed that many high school biology teachers were reluctant to endorse evolution in class. Rather, they are encouraging the students to employ critical-thinking skills when considering life and its beginnings.

The reason? The concept of evolution is actually an hypothesis; but many misguided people call it a theory and teach it as fact. That is not science. It is actually faith, which places it in the field of religion.

Consider these facts:

  • Organic life requires the simultaneous (emphasis on simultaneous) presence of three highly complex, coded macromolecules – RNA (Ribonucleic acid), DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid), and proteins. Proteins consist of amino acids. I read that the protein hormone insulin has fifty-one amino acids; and using those 51 acids there are more than ten trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion different possible sequences. That’s just for insulin. (For comparison, the human body has somewhere around 75-140 trillion cells.)
  • According to the basic evolutionary concept, all organic life originated from dissolved rocks: a rich soup of dissolved minerals. But without the direct intervention of the divine Creator, God, it is absolutely impossible for organic life to evolve from dissolved rocks. Also, a portion of the 2nd law of thermodynamics (entropy) reveals that nature does not become more complex, but degrades with time.
  • The first law of thermodynamics informs us that matter can be neither created nor destroyed. It can change shape, form, or state, but matter cannot be made out of nothing or annihilated into nothing. That cancels any Big Bang hypothesis. Therefore, logically and scientifically, the mere presence of matter is a miracle and requires a Creator who resides outside time and space. That takes us back to the Bible and a Creator: God.
  • John 1:1-2 says; “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him.” And verse fourteen informs us, “The Word became flesh (Jesus) and dwelt among us.” So it was Jesus Who was actively involved in creating everything.
  • To believe that something can be made out of nothing is either absurd, or faith. Either way is not scientific, and the concept of evolution takes its place among the many religions of the world.

Accepting a Creator also requires faith, but it isn’t blind faith. Consider this: Timex watches and space shuttles don’t just happen; they require dreamers, planners, engineers, builders, and more. When we study the intricacies of the simple one-cell amoeba or massive 200-billion-star galaxies, it is obvious that there was a dreamer, planner, engineer, and builder. The classic Big Bang hypothesis and humanistic evolution make intriguing science fiction, but do not stand the test of time. Rather they are diversions which turn us away from truth: from Almighty God who created us, and from Jesus Christ who loved us and gave himself for us.

God – not limited by man’s imagination – created the laws of physics then created matter and arranged matter into various forms. It is fascinating, and almost beyond the comprehension of mortal man. Religions that accept spontaneous materialization without a Creator and gods creating themselves, are blind religions based on human imagination; but Judeo-Christianity is a revealed religion based on nature and Scripture.

Origin, Meaning, Morality, Destiny

Where did we come from? Why are we here? What do we believe? Where are we going? There are many hypotheses, some theories, and a few facts that try to explain why and how humanity came into existence.

  1. Let’s begin with the first law of thermodynamics – well-accepted by the scientific community – which informs us that matter can be neither created nor destroyed. Matter can change shape, form, or state (ice, water, vapor, plasma), but matter cannot be made out of nothing or annihilated into nothing. That invalidates any Big Bang hypothesis – scientific or not.

To believe that something can be made out of nothing is either absurd, or is a manifestation of faith. Therefore, logically and scientifically, the mere presence of matter is a miracle and that requires a Creator. That takes us back to the Bible and answers the first question of our origin: God created us.

  1. Next, what is the meaning of life – of your life? Why are we here? If humanity and all the cosmos were merely a statistically impossible happenstance of nature, and if creatures such as the Spotted Owl, rare New Mexico Jumping Mouse, Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat, or a kitten were more important than mankind, why do so many well-meaning people who don’t believe in mankind’s importance endorse expensive self-improvement, image-enhancing, and self-esteem seminars? Those would be a waste of time; but negating mankind’s importance does explain their obsession of infanticide by fetal abortion.

The fact that humans are self-aware supports the fact that there was planning and purpose for our existence, and that we were made in the image of our Creator. Those who accept that fact might understand the dynamic meaning for our existence. So, why are we here? God created us to fulfill HIS purposes. However, we must study the Holy Bible and ask God to reveal His specific purpose for our individual life.

  1. What about morality? Through the years I’ve read about many religions, andhave been surprised at their moral contradictions. Many who believe in being
    good, kind, etc., give no basis for doing so. Their standard is to “be good for goodness’ sake”. (Sounds like Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer.) However, there must be a reason for being good, or goodness means nothing. There must be a standard by which to measure goodness, otherwise no one knows if they are being good or not.

Many today claim that there is no absolute truth, and that we all must make our own path. My questions are, Who made up the law that murder is wrong? And if there is no absolute right and wrong, Who decided that slandering your integrity is wrong? Where did we learn that stealing is wrong?

Surprise! There is a standard – the Holy Bible – and God put moral laws in place for our good and to accomplish His purposes. God placed His law in our consciences which gave us the capability of being self-aware and of knowing Him (Genesis 1:26-27, Romans 2:13-16). This defines mankind as special and separates us from the animal kingdom.

  1. So, what is your destiny? Think about it. Since God created us, God gave us meaning, and God established morality, then our destiny will dynamically involve God. Keep in mind that your and my beliefs neither eradicate nor establish truth. Truth stands on its own foundation and we either accept or reject it. A group of people can sit in a circle for as long as they desire and think world peace as intently as they know how. But judge for yourself: Is it working? Of course not, because the world rejects the Prince of Peace – Jesus. If you don’t believe me, look at the Middle-East today.

Well, you don’t have to look that far: look at our own government.

How can we create our own eternal destiny? The simple answer is: we cannot. If we break our nation’s laws, the choices are set before us. Many times we are penalized in some way (pay a fine or lose privileges) or we go to jail. In like manner, when we break God’s laws the choices are set before us in Scripture – with our eternal destiny at stake. We cannot create our destiny, but we can choose one of the two options. God wants us to choose Door #1 and that is eternity in heaven with Him. But that requires us to put our faith in Jesus Christ for this option. The only other option, Door #2, is eternal separation from God. So, where are you going? John 3:16 – God so loved the world – that includes you and me – that He gave His only begotten son – Jesus, who died for us – that whosoever believes on Him will not suffer eternal death, but will live eternally in heaven with Him.

Hot Air Balloons

After speaking for the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Chapter in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I was going to take Pastor Clarence Gutierrez of the Christian Family Church (Taos, NM) back to Taos. The pastor’s daughter was driving him up from Albuquerque, and I thought I’d have a 15-minute wait. But it’s a good thing I learned not to be in a hurry because the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta generated so much traffic on I-25 that traffic was stalled for more than an hour. I kept in touch with Clarence by cell phone, and relaxed as I drank coffee and talked with other friends.

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is an annual festival that takes place for My Pictures0008nine days in October and is the largest balloon event in the world. Several balloon shapes include: an F/A-18 fighter jet, giant turtle, a car, telephone, cow, covered wagon, soda cans, and hundreds more. Over 1,000 balloons participated in the year 2000, but in order to focus on quality, event organizers now limit the number to 600. Over 100,000 spectators are present each day during the event, with untold thousands more throughout the city observing the balloons as they rise high in the Southwestern sky.

One popular night-time portion of the event is called the “Glowdeo” (glowing rodeo). That’s when participating balloons are inflated but do not lift off the ground, while the propane flames illuminate the various-shaped balloons.

From an historical news clip, we read:

The Balloon Fiesta began in 1972 as the highlight of the 50th birthday celebration for 770 KOB Radio. Radio station manager Dick McKee asked Sid Cutter, owner of Cutter Flying Service and the first person to own a hot air balloon in New Mexico, if KOB could use his new hot-air balloon as part of the festivities. The two began discussing ballooning with Oscar Kratz, and McKee asked what the largest gathering of hot air balloons to date had been. “19 balloons in England”, Cutter replied. Kratz asked “Can we get 19 here?” Cutter agreed to try.

Twenty-one pilots agreed to come, but only thirteen showed up because of inclement weather. That event was on April 8, 1972 and it quickly became very popular. But since autumn produces better flying conditions for balloons, October was decided as the best time to continue the annual event.

The largest and most popular part of the 9-day fiesta is what they call the “MassMy Pictures0006 Ascension”. This is when participating balloons ascend in two waves – 300 in each wave – and the city is filled with “Oooohs” and “Aaaahs” as they rise majestically with the unsurpassed beauty of the 10,679 foot high mountain, called Sandia Crest, providing a spectacular backdrop.

The Balloon Fiesta is one of New Mexico’s most popular tourist attractions, and hundreds of food vendors are on hand to provide almost any kind of food your tummy might desire. For a number of years, the Kodak Company was a major sponsor, and the event was called, the “Kodak Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta”.

The balloons rise off the ground because the propane burners produce a large quantity of heated air that is less dense than the surrounding air, and rises – pulling the gondola (the basket), the propane equipment, and the people with it. This is the same principle in which lighter oil rises above denser water. The balloons stay aloft until the heat dissipates and the balloons begin to come down. The pilots skillfully operate the burners to “fly” the balloons: rising, lowering, and landing where they choose – normally

My Pictures0005But there are also problems associated with the Balloon Fiesta. Traffic gets jammed as drivers watch. Sometimes the propane burners malfunction. Balloons sometimes hit power lines. The wind may blow a balloon over while the burner is operating causing the balloon to burn. Traffic accidents happen because of gawkers.

Pastor Gutierrez finally arrived and we joyfully headed for Taos. The next day, Sunday, the District Superintendent, Mike Dickenson, ministered and we had an enjoyable meeting. Clarence, Mike, and I are long-time friends and our fellowship is based on our love for Jesus Christ.

As you travel through life, stop and smell the roses; don’t get in a hurry. Don’t allow the irritations of life (like traffic jams) bother you, and learn to see the good in every situation. Psalm 111:10 says, “Wisdom begins with respect for the Lord; those who obey his orders have good understanding.”

What is True Success?

So, you want to be a success? Successful in what? How do you go about it? How will you DSCN6609know if you have achieved successhood? What IS success?

One dictionary says: success is the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the attainment of wealth, position, honors, etc. If that is success, why do so many millionaires, movie stars, and beauty contestants feel empty and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on psychiatrists? What are they trying to achieve that they don’t have?

They’re looking for internal satisfaction, inner-peace.

Many of you have heard of John D. Rockefeller. One of the great success stories in America, he had a lot to say about success throughout his life. Several of his comments early in life are:

 “If you want to succeed you should strike out on new paths, rather than travel the worn paths of accepted success.” And, “I have ways of making money that you know nothing of.

But later in life Rockefeller said, “If your only goal is to become rich, you will never be fulfilled.” And, “I know of nothing more despicable and pathetic than a man who devotes all the hours of the waking day to the making of money for money’s sake.

So, what is success? My father once told me, “Son, you are living for the Lord, your family loves you, you enjoy your vocation, and you enjoy life. Although you don’t have aPICT0238B big bank account, you are an example of what I call success! What’s your secret?”

I told him we live by this principle: “If we are not content with what we have, we will never be content with what we want.” However, being content with what I have does not mean I sit back and do nothing; but working for the betterment of my family and mankind, I normally don’t get stressed out or worry about anything. Living for the Lord with high integrity and character, my life and the results of what I do are in God’s hands.

Dorothy Rugg, co-pastor with her husband, James Rugg at Mill City Assembly of God, Mill City, PA, said it eloquently on July 1, 2013:

“How do you measure success? What do you think makes you successful?

 “I believe all of us struggle with how to correctly evaluate success in our lives. We make the mistake of looking at others and comparing ourselves with them. Or we look to the standards of success of a world that ignores God and His commandments. We think wealth or influence will make us successful.

“The Apostle Paul said, ‘Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me’ (Philippians 4:11-13, NASB).

“We learn from Paul that success is living for the glory of God. Being who God wants us to be. When we follow that path to success, we are strengthened in everything we do by the Holy Spirit.

 “Success is the lonely widow who sits at home and prays and intercedes for the needs of her family and friends. Success is the teenager who takes a stand in school to live his life for the Lord and not go the way of the crowd. Success is the homemaker taking care of her children day by day and making her home a safe haven. Success is the hard-working man who puts in long hours to provide for his family. Success is the person who struggles with a crippling disability in her body yet gives glory to God by her very life.

“Success is where you are with God. Not all of us will be famous or well-known by the world, but what matters most is being recognized by God our Heavenly Father. Living PICT1171for His glory, His honor. You will be successful when you surrender everything to the Father and live according to His plan and His purpose.”

Earthly success is temporary at best but can leave you feeling empty. Jesus informs us true success comes from knowing God and completing His will for our lives. (John 4:34)

We never achieve fulfillment by attempting to live for ourselves. That’s been proven millions of times. We achieve fulfillment when we purposely live to honor the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Real Story

You think you know the story in Luke 15:11-32 because you’ve heard it a hundred times? Keep reading, because this time you might be surprised. Bear with me as I put the story in a modern setting.

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A man was successful as a rancher and in his investments, and his family had everything they wanted that money could buy. He had two sons, George and Jake: both of whom secretly disrespected dad, and openly hated each other.

Disillusioned with life, one day George, the younger boy, said, “Dad, I’ve thought it over and I want nothing to do with ranching. I want to live my own life without you telling me what to do. Give me my half of the inheritance and I’ll get out of your life!

The dad evaluated his business, sold enough stock that was equal to half his worth, and gave it to rebellious George. Jake was ecstatic! Now everything the old man owned was his, and he would do everything he could to build the business; for he was now heir to it all!

Over the next four years, George spent his money on prostitutes, cars, gambling, drugs and alcohol. He flew around the country and around the world  visiting the best casinos. The owners got to know him and welcomed him with open arms as they offered him free alcohol and free rooms for him and his current partner. Thinking that his friends loved him, he lavished his time and money on them, too.

But he forgot something: continual outflow, without a corresponding inflow, will dry up the money-flow. And it happened to George. Now penniless, he realized he needed a job – anything that might provide enough money for another drug fix, bottle of booze, or cheap sex.

With a four-year history of extravagant but shameful living, no one would hire him; and all the friends he thought his money had bought had deserted him. Totally abandoned, he figured that suicide was his best option. But as he began to make the plan, a thought entered his beleaguered mind: “Maybe dad will hire me to repair fences, or something. There’s enough to do on the ranch where I can stay out of his way.”

He called home from the Salvation Army office. When he asked dad if he could come home, his father said, “Son, I’ve been waiting for you and my door is open; come on home.” The Salvation Army captain took George to his house to get cleaned up. He gave him clean clothing and bought him a bus ticket.

Eighteen hours and two states later, the bus pulled into town around noon. Wondering howDSCN4942 he would get from the station to the ranch, the boy looked out the window. His mouth dropped open as he saw his dad and a group from the church waving signs that yelled “WELCOME HOME GEORGE!”

As he disembarked the bus, he broke down. Sobbing, he said, “Dad, I’m ashamed of what I’ve done. I’ve wasted everything, and my life is a mess. Can you hire me as one of your ranch hands until I get back on my feet?”

But his father took the young man into his big arms and said, “Son, I have been waiting every day for four years for you. Everything I own will belong to Jake, but you are still my son. And as long as I am alive, my home is your home.” When they pulled up to the big house, his mother, aunts, uncles, and neighbors had a barbeque shin-dig ready; and a huge cake had been prepared that was decorated with “Welcome Home!”

George asked, “Where’s Jake?” Dad said he was up north conducting business, but would be home in a couple of days. But someone called Jake and told him George had returned. Jake blew up!

Jake immediately called his dad and demanded, “What’s that good-for-nothing wino doing back home! I’m the one who has stayed with you and built the business. I don’t want him here living off what I’ve built! Get rid of him!”

Dad responded, “Jake, everything I have will be yours. But George asked to be forgiven, and it is only right that we let him in. After all, he is family. As long as I’m alive, George can stay.”

*******

Dear reader, you’ve been told the story was about George who wasted half the family fortune. But George’s narrative is only the background for the real story. The parable is about Jake’s rebellion, rejection, and refusal to forgive.

CrossJesus told the parable to the those who considered themselves the elite of society and heirs to the kingdom of God. The proud religious leaders thought it would lower their prestige if they accepted traitors, tax collectors, winos, and prostitutes into their society and into their church meetings.

The moral: Pride is just as bad as wasting a life. But anyone who truly repents – whether pastor or prostitute, model citizen or murderer – is accepted by the Father and welcomed into His kingdom.

Humbly turn to our heavenly Father, tell him you’re sorry for how you’ve lived. Ask him for guidance and courage to turn around, and he’ll help you.

Enjoy the Trip

SWOOOOOOOOSH!! It seems that a powerful gust of wind blew into our house, flipped 1280px-Strommast2the pages on the calendar, turned our hair a little whiter, took money out of our wallet, and blew back out of the house leaving us a little off balance. The birthdates of our kids and grandkids seemed to be but a blip on the radar screen. Does time fly that fast for you? Time seemed to 0go a lot slower when we were younger.

When Rebecca, our younger daughter, was in high school she asked me, “Daddy, how can I make time go faster?” I said, “Either learn to like what you are doing, or become very busy.” That didn’t quite satisfy her at the time. But when she went to college and loved her time there, time began to fly. Now that she is a wife and mother of five children (four girls and one boy), she is wondering how to slow time down.  However, she told me recently that she is learning to make the most of each day with her kiddos – and logging the life-enriching memories.

With the days and months seemingly whizzing by, is there something you have been intending to do? A project waiting for you? A book you want to read? A trip you want to take? Maybe something you want to write? Don’t wait too long because we never know what tomorrow brings.

Some years ago, Carol and I found a way to slow time down – a little. We refrain from putting too many items on our calendar, and we spend more time with each other, helpingjanuary-2019-calendar2 each other. Relating life to a cross-country trip, Rev. Chuck Swindoll summed it up in six syllables: “Stop, and smell the roses.” He informed us that merely putting miles behind us does not enrich our lives. We must stop! Get out of the car. Walk around. “Smell the roses.” In other words: Don’t just finish the trip – enjoy the trip. Learn something. Do something meaningful for yourself.

Make your life count or be significant within the context of other lives. This doesn’t require a New Year’s Resolution, a Masters’ Degree, or $25,000 in the bank. Instead it requires the desire to really live life fully – in a Godly context, of course. And it produces peace, less stress, a gentler pace of life, and most likely a longer life.

All that is sometimes difficult to do because we have a hard time deciding what to eliminate from our hectic, overcrowded schedule. You’ve probably heard the statement: “When you’re up to your neck in alligators, it’s easy to forget that the initial objective was to drain the swamp.” But you can ask for help getting back into the boat, and seek counsel to make better plans.

Some of the best counsel you can receive is found in the Bible. When my grandfather was 96 years old, he told me, “Everything you need to know is in the Bible. You can learn a lot of things, but everything you NEED to know is in the Bible. Study it.” He is right. Read the Psalms and Proverbs. You will be surprised at the wisdom for everyday decisions you will find there. The added benefit is reading, studying, and living by the Godly principles there enables us to experience a more peaceful and enjoyable life.

So, cut out a lot of the unnecessary busyness, and think about that project to do, book to image00771read, trip to plan and take, or book to write. Lighten the load by eliminating unimportant things. Keep the important items. Don’t make your life more hectic, but more valuable.

Spend time with family. Attend worship services regularly. Stop and smell the roses.

And all year long remember this: God loves you.