Total Solar Eclipse at Glendo

I enjoy reading articles about solar eclipses from others, but today I’ll tell a portion of our own story.

Carol and I were on our 51st wedding anniversary trip and decided to visit our daughter (Darlene) and her family in Colorado, then visit the Rocky Mountain National Park just outside Estes Park, Colorado. But we timed our visit to coincide with the total solar eclipse.

We had seen partial solar eclipses and several total lunar eclipses; but never a total solar eclipse, so we didn’t know what to expect.

Darlene and her son went with us as we drove three and a half hours north of Denver. Arriving at Glendo, Wyoming around 4:30 on Monday morning, we easily found a place to park in an open grassy area, and took a nap in the car. Darlene and I awoke a couple of hours later and walked to the lake in time to take some great sunrise pictures over the water.

It was a warm day with planes flying overhead and hot-air balloons lazily hovering nearby. The count-down for the total eclipse began around 10:22 a.m., and our anticipation grew.

Thousands of people, including professional photographers, had their telescopes and cameras ready. Many were set up on tripods, but most of us simply held cameras in our hands.

I took several pictures with the camera pointing directly at the full sun with no filter, but shot most of the pictures with the solar-viewing lens covering the camera lens. I took a picture every 10 minutes until the eclipse was near 90%, then changed battery and began taking quite a few.

It was light enough to read with only 10% sunlight, but it got dark quickly after that. Then, as someone said: “BAM! Darkness!” And with the sudden darkness, the temperature suddenly dropped, making the hot-air balloons rise.

As noon-day brightness turned to night, hundreds of people shouted, cheered, and cried. I didn’t expect the sudden emotion that swept over me. All I could do and say was, “Oooooooooh Wow! God, you are amazing to arrange this kind of phenomena.” I took turns looking at the corona and taking pictures: taking 15 shots of the corona during blackout.

Then, again, “BAM!” The light came back on – but differently.

As the eclipse was increasing, the sunlight was dull-yellow; but the instant the sunlight reappeared, it was a bright, diamond, crystal color! What a surprise! I’ll never forget it. Again, very emotional. Cheering, yelling, crying spontaneously erupted from the crowd.

We didn’t wait for the eclipse to unwind. At about 20%, we packed up and began heading out … but another surprise popped up.

It took only 3.5 hours to drive from Denver and park on the grass at Glendo Park; but it took 4 hours to drive the 3 miles from the grassy spot to I-25. Then it took another 2 hours to drive 26 miles south. That is where we escaped the unending line of red break-lights and headed east for Scotts Bluff, Nebraska. After a snack in Scotts Bluff, we headed south, getting back to Aurora just after midnight; but it was much better than the projected 6:00 a.m. if we stayed on I-25.

As I write this Reflection, I am reviewing the pictures I took. Someone told me that taking a picture directly at the sun without a filter would hurt the camera. I am not bragging, but it didn’t affect my Nikon 9900. My wife also shot the sun directly with her Nikon 9400, and they both continue to work wonderfully.

We are now looking forward to watching the next total solar eclipse in Little Rock in 2024.

God didn’t have to put the moon in such an orbit that we would have lunar and solar eclipses. But He must have thought ahead and said, “I’ll make life interesting for my special creation – man. Not only will I give him animals to make life interesting, I’ll also show my creativity in the heavens for him to enjoy.”

Psalm 19:1-2 says, “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known.”

God is an awesome God. He loves you and desires to have a living relationship with you through Jesus Christ. Read about Him in the Bible. God would like you to spend eternity with Him.

Man Evolved From What?

I always enjoy discussions with my friends who are scientists and/or who believe in one of the various concepts of physical evolution. Here is an over-simplified summary of those beliefs. I may displease folk on both sides of the issue, but please read to the end.

There was nothing in space – there was no space, either. Then a magical thing called a Big Bang occurred over 15 billion years ago: stuff was created out of nothing – out of nowhere. Stuff can be called energy, gas, dust, atoms, electrons, muons, or anything you choose to call it. But it is the stuff from which the entire cosmos congealed. Oh yes, space also appeared simultaneously in which to house all the stuff.

After several billion years of gas and energy swirling around in space, gravity appeared so that the energetic gas and dust could coagulate and form huge rocks. We refer to these rocks as planets. But most of these gas balls didn’t form rocks; instead, they remained gas and dust and continued to attract more gas and dust. Eventually some of them became so large, pressure and friction caused them to ignite and become burning gas balls. We call these huge fire balls stars. And these stars, which were formed from gas and dust, began spewing transformed gas and dust back into space. This transformed material might be referred to as various forms of radiation. A small portion of that radiation is called light.

After 10 billion years, a rock we call “earth” began forming. It was hot. The hot rock began releasing hydrogen and oxygen, and those gases combined to form a liquid. We call it water.

Oh yes: all this was developing without any design, designer, or choreographer.

The water that resulted from the rocks began dissolving those rocks and created a mineral-rich liquid. And after a while, carbon joined the soup.  So now we have a thick viscous liquid made of mineral-rich water – all made from dissolved rock – which congealed from gas and dust – which came from the Big Bang – which produced itself out of absolutely nothing. Very intriguing.

Then, approximately 3.8 billion years ago, the viscous liquid was struck by some form of a life-generating jolt to create a life-form: vegetation. It wasn’t lightning, because that kind of jolt kills life. So there you have it: life evolved from dissolved rocks. Then this mineral-rich water continued to spawn other forms of vegetation.

And even more fascinating, after several billion years, some forms of vegetation decided to think for itself, and became air-breathing, self-locomotive life-forms. But they needed RNA and DNA. They say RNA (ribonucleic acid) was created before DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) appeared. Fascinating, because RNA needs DNA to exist, while DNA needs RNA to exist. But some people tell us that RNA happened all by itself. Hmmmmmmm.

During the next six million years, animals evolved, and some became a type of human. Even more interesting, some of these semi-human-type animals developed the concept of a god, and began creating things to worship. Some bowed down to rocks, some bowed to trees, and some bowed to the lights in the sky. However – amazingly – some demanded that others bow to them. (How in the world did ego or pride evolve?)

So here it is: gas, dust, and space created itself out of nothing; gravity developed so that the gas and dust could congeal in space; some balls of gas and dust formed rocks; some balls formed stars; stars spewed gas back into space; rocks created water; water dissolved rocks to form a viscous liquid; this liquid formed vegetation; some vegetation turned into animals; some animals became humanoid; and humanoids decided to worship stuff, worship lights in the sky, and worship each other.

Modern man calls that science; some call it evolution; and I call it improbable, humanistic science-fiction, which is actually void of true science.

Why? Because both Biblically and scientifically, it is an impossible, non-scientific belief which is religious in nature. Modern man doesn’t believe in miracles, yet the “evolutionary steps” are impossibilities equivalent to a series of miracles.

I am neither questioning the age of the universe, nor questioning evolution within individual species; but life cannot evolve from rocks no matter how many billions or trillions of years we add to the cosmic calendar. That is speculation originally developed by people who were trying to figure out how everything got here, but could not accept the simple statement: “And God said….”

But to remain scientifically-oriented, we must include God doing the creating because accepting the impossible without a cause is absolutely anti-scientific. However He did it, God created inorganic matter, and He created life – two different concepts.

The Bible says: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Someday we’ll will learn how He did it.

Optimist, Pessimist, or…?

“Hey, dad; I learned something new at school today.” I was happy and wanted to share this new bit of wisdom with my dad. I was twelve years old, in 7th grade, and feeling big.

“Okay, I am sitting down. Enlighten me with this earth-shaking news.” We both laughed.

“An optimist looks one way before crossing a one-way street; but the pessimist looks both ways.” I was proud of myself because I remembered every word of it.

But dad sat there for a few seconds, then popped my bubble when he said, “Maybe the guy who looked both ways before crossing a one-way street wasn’t a pessimist. Maybe he was a realist.”

I felt badly because I didn’t impress dad the way I was hoping to; but in his wisdom, dad broadened my outlook on life – again – for which I am thankful. Dad always did his best to help me view life with a deeper, more complete understanding. He was a great dad, and a wise man.

By the way, pessimist comes from “pessimisme” which means “worst”, and could have originally meant “bottom-most”. But optimist comes from “optimisme” which means “the good” with an alternate meaning of “seeing the greatest good”.

Well, I learned something else today about optimists and pessimists. Since dad graduated to heaven 10 years ago, I can’t tell him about it. But I can tell you folk. (I can imagine dad in heaven saying, “Okay; enlighten your readers with this earth-shaking news.”)

This axiom was possibly stated by Winston Churchill. “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

If you read it again and ponder on it, you’ll see the inherent wisdom. Optimism is the reason some people accomplish so much amid ongoing hardship, while others achieve so little even with no resistance. Yes, I know: you might say the poor achiever may not be a pessimist, but a lazy or a non-motivated person. You have a point there, so that would be two more reasons some people accomplish so little.

The story is told of a rancher taking his twin nephews to the barn. Jerry was a pessimist and his twin, Jack, was an optimist. When the uncle opened the first door, he said, “Jerry, I am giving you a horse.” Jerry looked at the horse standing there, saddled and ready to ride, but said, “Oh no!” then sat down – dejected.

“What’s the matter?” His uncle asked. The boy said, “If you give me a horse, I’ll have to clean out the stall!”

The uncle shrugged his shoulders and motioned for Jack to open the second door. Upon opening it, all Jack saw was a pile of horse manure. “Oh Boy!” shouted Jack, and he grabbed a shovel and started digging a pathway to go inside.

His uncle asked, “Jack, what are you doing?” The optimistic twin shouted, “With this much horse manure, there’s just GOT to be a horse in there somewhere!”

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not putting down pessimists, for they help optimists through life. When people like me see the opportunities in the difficulties, the pessimists point out the potential land-mines which we need to avoid. And, of course, we optimists help the others to realize that some of those potential mines are not armed, and work should proceed. If we purposely work together without deriding each other, both pessimist and optimist can be a productive team.  

But I think Dad’s idea of the realist presents a balanced viewpoint. One definition says “a realist looks at things as they are and deals with them in a practical manner.”

Thinking I was either an optimist or realist, I took an online quiz to see what that shrewd computer program thinks I am. The computer surprised me with: “You are a gentle pragmatist.” Thank you, intelligent computer.

A definition of a pragmatist is: “One who has a reasonable and logical way of doing things, or practical way of handling problems; a realist.”

We need both optimists and pessimists; but both should be realistic about life, for that’s where the rubber meets the road. We shouldn’t ignore the difficulties in life, but neither should we see them as stumbling blocks.

Whether you are an optimist or pessimist, be a team player – a realist – and your organization will be blessed. Ecclesiastes 9:10a instructs us, “Whatever work you do, do your best.”

The Cracked Windshield

As we were driving near the Salton Sea in Southern California, a blinding sandstorm lightly sandblasted our windshield. Afterward, when the sunlight hit the windshield at the right angle, or if a car came toward us at a critical angle at night, it created a visual difficulty. But we could still see well enough to drive safely so we didn’t replace it.

But this is a different story.

In October of 2016, a truck about 300 feet ahead of us lofted a rock that landed on our windshield – right in front of Carol. In addition to startling Carol and eliciting a yelp from her, it created a crater in the windshield with five or six cracks radiating outward.

What could I do? There is no need to stop. No sense in getting aggravated, worried, or upset; and the truck driver didn’t do it intentionally. Change lanes if possible, continue on course and take care of it later. But be assured: if not repaired soon, the cracks will grow and the windshield will become what I call “spider-webbed”.

Here’s some background information.

The dashboard was created to prevent mud and horse excrement from “dashing” the legs of the driver and passengers. Dashboards on buggies were originally vertical or at an angle, but lower on the carriage.

Windscreens (early name for windshields) may also have had their beginnings on horse-drawn carriages or buggies. They were made of glass, were mounted on top of the dashboards, and provided protection for the upper body and face.

Since many early cars were manufactured without tops, the windscreen provided some protection from the wind as well as from stuff being splattered by horses and other vehicles. In the US, the windscreen became a shield from the wind as the vehicles began going faster; so it took on the name of windshield.

In a car, the “shelf” between the driver and the windshield kept the title of dashboard, and the windshield could be laid down on the dashboard on dry and non-windy days. But the glass broke easily, so improvements in glass quality and safety were needed.

A process called “tempering” was utilized to make a safer glass, but it was soon replaced by “safety-glass.” Safety-glass is a laminated glass that is made like a sandwich: two layers of tempered glass with a layer of plastic in between.

Today, the major components of windshields or windscreens are silica, soda ash, dolomite, limestone, and cullet. Often potassium oxide and aluminum oxide are added; but silica (sand) comprises well over 60% of the material.

Also, modern windshields can have more than two layers of tempered glass with layers of plastic (usually polyvinyl butyral or ethylene-vinyl acetate) in between. This allows the windshield to be considerably more flexible and more resilient to blows from rocks or other objects.

Because of the flexibility and lamination, when an object hits the windshield, potential damage is usually confined to the outer glass layer. It may still need to be repaired or replaced, but the lamination prevents the glass from shattering.

Back to the cracked windshield.

I called Safelite AutoGlass Company. They said if the break was smaller than a credit card and has three or fewer radiating cracks, the insurance companies will not provide a replacement. Well, the break with cracks was smaller than a card, but it had five or six radiating cracks that I call spider-legs – and they were growing. So we set up an appointment for the next day; and while we shopped at Sears, the car received a new windshield.

Wow! What a joy it is to see super-clearly as we drive throughout the California country-side – and on interstate highways.

Do you know that our spiritual vision can be damaged by bumps in life? Someone can purposely or inadvertently hurl a spiritual stone at us and crack our mental or spiritual “shield”. Then, without the badly-needed protection, we become vulnerable to other dangers. Our damaged vision robs us of wisdom, and our poor reactions make things worse.

What should we do? Safelite AutoGlass cannot help us here; but Almighty God can. Ephesians 6:16 says, “Above all, take the shield of faith which will protect you from all the fiery darts of the wicked.”

Place your faith in Jesus: in Almighty God. He will give you clear vision and help you make correct decisions in life.

So, enjoy life – both the rough and smooth parts – and stay clear of those who would throw things that could hurt you. But if you do get a crack in your shield, turn to God immediately for help. Jesus promised never to leave us or forsake us.

Trip to Palomar Mountain

I asked young Fred if he knew what a telescope was. He responded, “It’s something you look through to see things wiggling in a drop of water.”

When I said that was a microscope, he asked “Aren’t they the same thing?”

After I described the difference, he gave a good summary: “Okay. One helps you see tiny things that are up close; and the other one helps you see big things that look tiny because they are far away.” I laughed, and said, “You got it.”

Mount Palomar, August 2016

Mankind has used both microscopes and telescopes to help us understand more about life, and that leads us to today’s Reflection on Life.

“When we go see mom today, is there anything else you would like to do?”

When Carol asked that question four years ago, I responded, “I’ve wanted to visit the observatory at Palomar for years. It’s about forty miles from Mom, so let’s go early to Palomar Mountain, then visit mom afterwards.” And so we did.

The Spanish name “Palomar” means “place of the pigeons” or “pigeon roost”; for in the early 1800s, Spaniards found multiplied thousands of band-tailed pigeons on the mountain.

The nearest town to the observatory is Rincon, California. Its altitude is 1,030 feet above sea level. But make sure your car is in good condition because you will drive up a steep, narrow, winding road to an altitude of 5,616 feet. It is sixteen miles by road, but almost one mile straight up.

The Palomar Observatory

There, gracing the mountaintop is a glistening, white dome: the Palomar Observatory operated by the California Institute of Technology, known as Caltech.

George Ellery Hale conceived of the idea and wrote about it in 1928. The Rockefeller Foundation gave $6,000,000 toward the project, and the Corning Glassworks company created the 200-inch object that would become the primary mirror. Originally weighing twenty tons, Corning had a railway flatbed modified to transport it; and it took sixteen days to safely ship it from New York to Pasadena, California.

Receiving it on Palomar Mountain in April of 1936, Caltech personnel spent thirteen years cutting, grinding, and polishing the mirror. Finally weighing about fourteen tons, the concave mirror was installed and the telescope was put into operation in January of 1949. American astronomer Edwin Powell Hubble (after whom the Hubble telescope was named) was given the honor of being the first person to use the Palomar Telescope.

The observatory operates several telescopes: the 18-inch Schmidt scope, the 48-inch Samuel Oschin scope, a 60-inch scope, and the 200-inch Hale telescope which was the largest in the world for 45 years. The Gran Telescopio Canarias (Great Canary Telescope on the Spanish Canary Islands) is largest now, with a 409-inche mirror, which is 34 feet in diameter.

Using the Hale telescope on Palomar Mountain, we’ve discovered many things, among which are millions of distant galaxies and quasars, and we’ve studied the structure and chemistry of intergalactic clouds.

Jean Mueller, the first woman hired as a telescope operator at Palomar Mountain in 1985 (also the first woman to operate the Hooker telescope at the Mount Wilson Observatory near Los Angeles), discovered over 100 supernovae by studying Palomar data. A supernova is the explosion of a giant star with the resultant brightness of about ten billion suns.

Several recent projects – among many – include studying near-Earth asteroids, Kuiper Belt Objects, star formation, planets in other solar systems, and black holes.

The Observatory up close

Because of light pollution, the observatory has reduced its major operations, shifting more work to the Hubble Space telescope. Prior to the covid-19 pandemic, the observatory was open every clear night of the year except December 24 and 25. Sections of the Palomar Observatory were open to the public during the day where visitors could take self-guided tours daily from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Guided tours of the dome and portions of the observing area were available Saturdays and Sundays from April through October. I strongly recommend a visit to the site, and you will be amazed at what you learn. Information is available at the Observatory’s web site: http://www.astro.caltech.edu/palomar/homepage.html and http://www.astro.caltech.edu/palomar/visitor/.

I find it interesting that Job 9:9 and 38:32, written over 3,500 years ago, names Arcturus, Orion, Pleiades, and refers to nearby astronomical bodies. Psalm 8:3-4a tells us that Almighty God created the vastness of the seemingly infinite cosmos, but also reveals that God is concerned about mortal humanity. Scripture says, “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him?”

Think of it: the ultimate Supreme, Sovereign God is concerned about finite, mortal man; and you don’t need a telescope to find Him, for He’s only a prayer away.

Charter of the Christian Faith

My new book, Charter of the Christian Faith, has been finalized, and is available on Amazon. It opens up, discusses, and reveals Jesus’ thoughts and intent in the Beatitudes. These 8 tightly-packed verses are 8 Steps Toward Godliness and reveal what and who the Church of Jesus Christ is supposed to be.

As Dr. Gary Royer (Professor of Intercultural Studies, Southwestern Assemblies of God University) said, “An avid storyteller, Gene taps into this talent to graphically illustrate each declaration of this treasured section of the Sermon on the Mount. Although some Bible readers consider the Beatitudes as lofty idealism to serve as an unreachable goal to remind us of our scarred humanity, Gene describes real-life means to actually incorporate these principles into our daily life.”

Michael Leggins (Professional Civil Engineer, Austin, TX, retired; Vice President, General Manager of Recology, San Francisco, CA, retired; President of the USS Yorktown CV-5 Survivor’s Club), had this to say, “This read helps us to understand the steps to spiritual maturity and the joyful life we desire when we fully surrender to Gods will. As I read, I feel the author is talking to me, and I know that’s how everyone will feel when they read the book.”

This 140-page book will reveal Jesus’ teaching in a real and easy-to-understand manner, and will greatly assist you in your walk with the Lord. My neighbor just informed me that he wants 3 copies.

The book is available for $9.99 plus shipping on Amazon.com in paperback, and for $2.99 plus transfer for e-book. You can find the book at https://www.amazon.com/s?k=S.+Eugene+Linzey&ref=nb_sb_noss_2.

However, I have 13 copies of Charter of the Christian Faith on hand. The first 13 of you who request the book from me will get it much quicker than ordering from Amazon. Also, my price, including shipping, is only $12.80 per book, where the total price from Amazon is about $14.60 for a single order. If you order 2 or more from me, the total price drops to $11.60 per copy.

Author M. Carolyn Steele wrote, “With dedicated purpose, Linzey has endeavored to unveil the deeper teachings revealed in the Beatitudes that will guide each of us along the path to a more meaningful Christian life.”

I look forward to hearing from you.

Did God Create Evil?

I am sure you’ve heard the old story about the college student and his atheistic professor. Here is an edited version.

The professor first degrades the concept of God, then challenges Christian students regarding their faith. One student accepts the challenge.

The prof asks the student if God created everything, and the student affirms that God did. The wily prof then asks his favorite question – apparently it worked every other time – “If God created everything, did God create evil?”

The student counters with, “Sir, is there such a thing as ‘cold’ or ‘dark’?” The prof bit on it and said, “Yes, there is.”

The student then explains, “No sir, there is no such thing as cold or dark. What we call ‘cold’ is actually a reduction of heat, and ‘dark’ is only a reduction of light. Extreme cold is a greater reduction of heat and total darkness is the total absence of light. When you enter a room, you don’t turn off the dark; you turn on the light. On a wintery day, you don’t turn down the cold; you turn up the heat.”

The student continues, “In like manner, evil is the absence of righteousness.”

That specific interaction may or may not have happened, but the concept is accurate. I think the ‘light and dark’ and ‘heat and cold’ examples are self-explanatory, so let’s go straight to ‘righteousness and evil’.

Did God create an angel that became the devil with the title of Satan? Yes, God created that angel. Does that mean God created evil? The answer is “No”; but that might not satisfy your curiosity. Therefore, let me ask this: Does the Subaru Auto Company create auto accidents?

What kind of silly question is that? I’ll answer that later.

Does the Siemens Company create Amtrack accidents? Does the Boeing Company create airline crashes? Does the housing industry create house fires? The answers to all those apparently absurd questions are: “Of course, not!”

But cars, trains, and planes do crash. Houses do burn. Therefore, those tragedies MUST be caused by the creators of those machines and buildings – right? Wrong!

Although human error is evident in many situations, the creators do not INTEND for their products to crash or burn.

Neither did God intend for His “products” to fail. He knew we would, but that was neither His intention nor His plan. God simply made both angels and man with a free will. If a robot obeys, that proves nothing. But if a person with a free will obeys, that shows love or loyalty – or both.

Satan (Luke 10:18, Rev. 12:9) was obviously created with a free will to choose to obey or disobey Almighty God, the creator of all that exists; otherwise he could not have rebelled against God.

In like manner, man was created perfectly sinless in the Garden of Eden and was given the freedom to choose to obey or disobey. Genesis 2:16-17 says, “But the Lord God gave him this warning: ‘You may freely eat any fruit in the garden except fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat of its fruit, you will surely die.’”

But Satan tricked Eve, and Adam willingly disobeyed God (Genesis 3:1-6, Romans 5:14). Later their older son, Cain, got upset with God and murdered his brother, Abel. And things got worse from there.

Throughout the Bible, God implores man to obey; yet man disobeys (Gen. 6:5). And in a disobedient state, man commits atrocities against man. Murder. Rape. Pillaging. Enslaving. Torture. Adultery. Theft. Gossip. Slander. You name it, and man did it. But it wasn’t God who created the crime.

God, Himself, gave us basic guidelines to follow. Several of them are: honor your parents, don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t commit adultery, and they are part of the foundation of American law. Whenever man obeys God, he is kind to others. He honors others. He helps his fellow man. But when man disobeys God, he becomes evil. Man chooses how he is going to live and act. Man is the culprit – not God.

Dark is the absence of light. Cold is the absence of heat. Evil develops in the absence of righteousness.

God did not and cannot create evil. Evil is the attitude and actions of someone rejecting God. Therefore, evil is produced when man turns his back on God and Scripture, and lives for himself. When man rejects God, man produces every kind of evil (First Peter 3:11). And God doesn’t override man’s arrogance.

On the other hand, when man cooperates with our Loving God, righteousness, peace, contentment, serenity, prevails. Remember: God gave us a free will, and He wants us to live a healthy, honorable, productive life. And whoever decides to live for God and honor Him simultaneously chooses to live with Him in heaven forever. It is our choice of how we will live, and where we’ll spend eternity.

Don’t blame God for people’s evil actions and the hell it generates here on earth. But choose to live for God.

Essentials of Christianity

Many have asked over the centuries, “Of all the religions in the world, what makes Christianity special?”

I’ve rolled this over in my mind for years, and I believe the simple answer is: Christianity is the only religion in the world in which God loves His creation, is ultimately concerned with the people, and came down to man’s level of existence in order to personally help him. Every other religion, with the possible exception of Judaism, leaves the adherent in question as to his relationship with his god and his future.

The man who recently asked me that question then asked, “Okay, what are the essentials of Christianity?” The following is a summary of our discussion.

As you may know, there are approximately 4,200 religions in the world. That covers any kind of faith or belief system you can think of. And many religions have various denominations within them. We read that within Christianity we may have as many as 33,000 denominations. That is, of course, debatable; and at least two “denominations” consists of one solitary congregation.

There may be six major religions in the world. They are: Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, New Age, Judaism, and Christianity. And each religion has its own god, gods, and/or goddesses.

Islam, Judaism, and Christianity are monotheistic, and most denominations within Christianity believe God is eternal. But several groups, including the Mormon Church, claim that God is not eternal, Jesus and Lucifer could be brothers, and men can become Gods. Therefore, Mormons may believe in millions of gods. This could actually remove the Mormon belief system from Christianity.

Other religions also have a multiplicity of gods. For example, Hinduism claims to have approximately 300 million. The New Age religion (which actually dates back to antiquity) is quite complex, and claims that every person and animal either is or can become a god. This, of course, contradicts Scripture.

With all that in mind, what makes Christianity special? What are the essentials of Christianity?

For starters, true Christians believe the Bible, and recognize that God, in the human form of Jesus, came to earth to rescue man from his own degradation; and made possible the restoration of our relationship with God.

Many theologians and teachers have their list of what makes Christianity unique, and (of course) I have my list. If any on the list were not true, Christianity would be a false religion. Also, any one of these can be broken down into several components, which is one way the list can grow.

  1. The Eternality of God (Genesis 1:1, John 1:1). He did not have a beginning, and will not have an ending. He is the “I Am” – eternally self-existent.
  2. Absolute Truth (John 7:11). Whereas many ideas, theories, and concepts are debatable, there is Truth that can be known, which cannot be negated, modified, or superseded.
  3. Inspired Scripture (2Timothy 3:16). The Bible was written by men who were inspired by Almighty God, and can lead us into relationship with the living God.
  4. The Deity of Jesus Christ (John 1:1, Mark 14:61). Jesus is fully God and fully man. This includes the facts of his virgin birth, His perfectly sinless life, His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension.
  5. The Fall of Man (Genesis 3:6-19, Romans 3:23). Everyone is born in a sinful state, and is destined for an eternity without God.
  6. Salvation through Jesus Christ (John 3:16, John 14:6, Romans 5:6-17, Acts 16:31). Only through Jesus can we be restored to the Heavenly Father. This includes recognition of and confession of sin; and with God’s help (through faith by His grace), turning from sin and purposely living to honor God.
  7. Jesus’ Personal Return (John 14:3, Matthew 24:36). The Bible says that Jesus will return (at a time unknown to both man and angels).

If any of those points are not true, the Bible is not true; and in that case Christianity is not true. Christianity is based on what the Bible says, and Who God is. No other religion has a god who loves the people and gave His own life to rescue them from eternal destruction.

One criticism of Christianity is: “It is exclusive.” Of course it is. But ALL religions are exclusive in some manner, and mankind is already lost and headed for a black eternity. However, since Jesus offers eternal life to ALL who accept Him (John 10:10), I believe Christianity is the truly inclusive religion.

Review of The Prodigal Son

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. Even though you’re not dead, give me my half of the inheritance and I’ll get out of your life!”

Wisely or not, the dad evaluated his business, sold enough stock that was equal to half his worth, and gave it to rebellious George. Jake, the older son, was ecstatic! Now everything the old man owned was his, and he would do everything he could to increase the value of the business; for he was now heir to it all!

Over the next three years, George wasted life and money on prostitutes, cars, gambling, drugs and alcohol. Now penniless, he looked for a job – anything that might provide enough money for another drug fix or bottle of booze.

Finally, rejected by all the friends his money had bought, he considered suicide. But he thought, 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, 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.

Fourteen hours and two states later, the bus pulled into town around noon. Wondering how he would get from the station to the ranch, the boy looked out the window – and saw his dad.

As he disembarked the Greyhound bus, 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 said, “Son, I’ve been waiting every day for these past three years for you to return. Everything I own is now your brother’s, 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 and uncles, cousins, and neighborsDSCN0024B had a barbeque shin-dig ready; and a huge cake had been prepared that was decorated with “Welcome Home, George!”

During the party George asked his dad, “Where’s Jake?” Dad said that he was up north conducting business, and he would be home in a couple of days.

But someone in the household called Jake on his cell phone and told him that 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!”

Dad responded, “Jake, everything I have will be yours. But George asked to be forgiven, and it is only right that we accept your brother into our home. After all, he is family.”

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You’ve been told that 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 not about George’s rebellion, repentance, and return; it’s about Jake’s pride and rejection. George repented, but Jake refused to forgive.

You see, Jesus told the parable to the Pharisees and Sadducees 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 forgave and accepted these repentant traitors, winos, and prostitutes into their society and into their church meetings.

But God loves everyone and gives everyone a chance to repent and turn to Him. John 3:16 says it clearly: God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son; and whoever believes on Him (Jesus) will not suffer eternal punishment, but will live forever with the Lord in heaven.

The moral: Pride is just as bad as living a wasted life. But anyone who truly repents, whether pastor or prostitute, haughty or humble, is accepted by the Father and welcomed into His kingdom.

Jehovah is not only a God of justice, but also a God of love and forgiveness.

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?