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.

What Constitutes “Wickedness”?

Dr. Chuck McCullough, my long-time friend, JBU Graduate, and writing partner in New Mexico, gave me permission to reprint an article he wrote for his Bible Answers column as a spring-board for discussion. Chuck wrote:


 “Does God have it in for wicked people? Does He want to damn them to hell for all the bad they have done?”—Brian

The Bible makes it clear God is not happy about “wickedness”. He issued specific commands to keep it in check (Ex. 20:1ff). The writer of Proverbs told his readers what God abhors (Prov. 6:16-19). There were some pretty severe judgments upon wickedness in the Old Testament (e.g., Gen. 19; Josh. 7)

The New Testament provides several lists of serious infractions (I Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; Col. 3:5-9).  This sort of behavior is clearly not what God intended for His highest creatures. He “hoped” for better, in a manner of speaking.

But hear two other pertinent thoughts:

First, God doesn’t relish the destruction of the “wicked people.” The Book says as much (Ezek. 18:23, 32). God has gone to unimaginable lengths to reach all people (the “world” of Jn. 3:16) in our brokenness, to rescue us from an eternity apart from Him (Rom. 1:17; 5:6-10; Eph. 2:4-10; I Tim. 2:4). He does not want any to perish (II Pet. 3:9). Indeed, Jesus did not come to condemn the world; rather, He came so that the world might be saved (Jn. 3:17-21).

Second, the Scripture presents a cautionary message to those who wish to identify the “real” sinners and condemn them to hell. Before we draw the line, attempting to spell out who is worthy of grace and who is not, we should remember that “all are sinners and fall short of God’s perfection” (Rom. 3:23).

Thus, from God’s standpoint, all of us may be considered “wicked” and desperately in need of rescue by His grace (Eph. 2:1-9). God’s great desire is that all people will come to faith in Him (I Tim. 1:12-15; I Thess. 5:23; II Thess. 3:3-5; Titus 3:1-7; I Jn. 1:5-10).

Dr. Chuck McCullough, former pastor of White Rock Baptist Church, Los Alamos, NM; published in The Los Alamos Monitor, Los Alamos, NM on March 28, 2014


Well said, my friend. Thank you for permission to reprint your article because people have asked me, “What constitutes wickedness? What makes a person wicked”?

One of our grandsons said, “A wicked person is someone who kidnaps a kid and is mean to him.” An adult in New Mexico said, “Wickedness is doing things like dropping atomic bombs on Japan!” When I asked him if Japan’s prior attack on Pearl Harbor was wicked, he said, “That wasn’t as bad as dropping those bombs!”

Hmmmmm…. I suppose people judge wickedness on a sliding scale, but God doesn’t have a sliding scale. We either pass or fail. We are either wicked or we are righteous. So, what are the criteria?

 Wicked is spelled out in the Scripture listed in Chuck’s article, but is briefly defined as evil or sinful. Evil is the absence of good; sin is the attitude or act of violating God’s will; and a righteous person is one who does what is right. But since Romans 3:10 says, “No one is righteous; no, not one!”, and since Jesus said in Matthew 19:17, “There is no one good, but God.”, how can Matthew 13:49 tell us the angels will separate the wicked from the righteous?

That’s easy: Romans 5:19 tells us if we repent (turn away) from our sins, accept Jesus into our lives, and live for Him, Jesus will declare us righteous. Jesus can do that because He, as God, took our place when He received judgment for our sin on the cross.

Conclusion: anyone who has ever broken any of God’s laws is wicked and worthy of judgment. But God doesn’t want to damn us; that’s why Jesus came to rescue us, and the remedy is given in Scripture. “Jesus did not come to condemn the world; rather, He came so that the world might be saved” (John. 3:17-21).

Also, Luke 19:10 says that Jesus came to save those who are lost. So, what should we do?

When the jailer asked, “What must I do to be saved?” the Apostle Paul replied, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 16:30-31).  That’s the answer. You will no longer be wicked, but declared to be righteous.

If you have not responded to Jesus, please read the blogs for the past two weeks. Jesus loves you and wants you in his family.

Valentine’s Day

image00771I remember Valentine’s Day in 1965. Valentine’s Day was on Sunday that year, and Carol and I were attending SCC (Southern California College: now VUSC – Vanguard University of Southern California). I remember thinking: “If Carol accepts my invitation to the Valentine Banquet, I’ll know that she is the girl I will marry.” So, nervously, I asked her.

Laugh if you want. I am chuckling now as I write because I was somewhat immature at the time, and I was overcome with “puppy-love.” (Yes friends, she accepted.) I know that isn’t the way to1966 wedding decide whom to marry, but we DID get married a year and a half later — August 22, 1966 — and 52+ years later, we are still in love.

Someone asked Carol several years ago, “What’s it like being married to the same person for all those years?” Carol responded: “Oh, he’s not the same person I married. He’s changed.” She is right. Through time we all change — hopefully for the better. For one thing, my puppy-love grew into a true, full-fledged love for Carol. Maybe not fully-mature even now, but definitely going in that direction. I have learned (and am still learning) to love her with the love of Jesus Christ; and His love supersedes or surpasses any love humans think they have. But how do husbands and wives keep their love and devotion vibrant through the problem-laden decades?

Bishop Valentinus, or Saint Valentine as he is remembered, gave us a hint by manifesting a two-fold love: An undying, obedient, irrevocable love for God, and a deep, loyal commitment to people. And that’s what Carol and I have applied in our marriage through the years.

dscn7495Carol explains it this way: “Marriage is made in heaven. But it comes in a kit that must be assembled here on earth.” She also says, “Marriage is like a pyramid: God is at the top, with husband and wife at the bottom corners. When husband and wife focus on each other, they tend to repel each other. But if they both focus on God and grow toward Him, they inevitably grow closer together. And growing toward God helps us to become more like Him. Therefore, we find ourselves loving each other more with the pure love of God. That’s why God should be at the center of every marriage.”

That reminds me of a song written in Pasadena, California by Frederick Lehman; but the lyrics are based on a Jewish poem titled “Haddamut” written in Aramaic in 1050 AD by Meir Ben Isaac Nehorai, a cantor in Worms, Germany. The words to the chorus are: “Oh Love of God, how rich and pure! How measureless and strong! It shall forevermore endure the saints and angel’s song.”

Another supporting factor in keeping your love going strong is to let your spouse be your very best friend. That way, NO one can ever come between you! Carol has been my best friend for these 52 years, and she will never be deposed from that position as long as we both shall live.

Our friends Gary and Carol Kroah, formerly Associate Pastors of the Siloam Spring (Arkansas) Assembly of God Church say, “To start out, it’s not hard to love someone who is lovable. But our love for one another has endured through the years because of our mutual commitment to Jesus Christ and to one another. The closer we have been to Him, the closer we are to each other. Our determination to care for one another has motivated us to stay together, and love with unconditional love.”

Unconditional Love—growing toward God—growing closer together. It sounds like Bishop Valentine’s two-fold love: an undying, obedient, irrevocable love for God, and a deep, loyal commitment to people.

You’ve probably figured out that I like the Valentine’s Day celebration, but I do not subscribe to the superficiality ascribed by the world. Using the celebration as an enhancement in courting and marriage is fine, but don’t use it for defrauding someone or for sexual immorality.  A person who truly loves someone will act honorably toward that person. Acting selfishly or dishonorably is devoid of true love. Read 2 Samuel 13.DSCN0185

Jesus exhibited the purest love by sacrificially giving Himself in order that we may receive eternal life. (John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son [Jesus], that whosover believes on Him will not perish [eternally] but have everlasting life”. Respond to Jesus. Receive His love, and live. Happy Valentine’s Day.

A Labor of Love

gene's info 120For over three years we were pastors of a church in Springer, New Mexico that was 200 miles from our home. Some routes went through winding mountainous roads and took longer. Living in the hills in northern New Mexico and driving the 6-8 hour trip to church and back every weekend – while working 50-60 hours a week at a national laboratory – we were late for church only twice. You may ask “Why did you accept that challenge?” That, and the results of our efforts, is another story for another time. Today’s story is about the trips; and of the eight possible routes to church, we found six that we took quite often.

In all our travels in over 52 years of marriage, we have had fun. Even when we made a wrong turn or were detoured due to highway work, we made a mini-vacation out of it. Last December, traveling from Missouri to home, we decided to take some roads we had never been on. We discovered only one problem: highway 221 turned into a gravel road. We laughed, turned around, and went another direction which took us through Eureka Springs; so we stopped and had dinner before resuming our trek. We make enjoyable memories out of potential irritations in life. But back to the story.

One Sunday morning, one of our deacons asked, “Pastor, what’s on your hands?” I told him I was bleeding. He said, “Blood isn’t that color. What’d you do?” Carol quickly said, “We went through Mora, and picked raspberries yesterday.”

mora, nmOne of our routes to Springer was through Espanola and up the canyon through which flowed the Rio Grande. At La Cienaga we turned east toward Sipapu then over the mountains and down into Mora. And that is where my hands turned red – or maybe, purple. Mora is well-known for its raspberry farm, and Carol had often asked me to stop and pick raspberries. Each time I said something like: “I’m going to be preaching and teaching, and berry-picking isn’t on my mind.” Although that was true, it was also a smoke-screen: I didn’t want to pick berries.

Now, for all you who have never picked blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, etc., let me tell you: I don’t enjoy that activity. We reach inside the foliage to find the berries, and these bushes have thorns containing toxin. Picking berries was both painful and made my arms itch for over a week. Now you might understand why I don’t like picking berries.

But one weekend my Precious wife was so desirous for those delicious, reddish-purple clumps ofraspberries juice, and she was so gentle in her running commentary about how delicious those berries would be in ice cream or made into a berry jam, that my mouth drooled and I just had to stop. When Carol excitedly asked, “Are we going to pick berries?” I said, “Yes. I don’t want to, so this will be a labor of love.”

“Yeah, right! You just want berries and ice cream!”

She was at least partly correct.

That time of year the berries were ripe, and many of them leaked their contents because they split or crushed easily as we picked them. But we left with five quarts, and Carol kept her word: they were GOOD over ice cream, over angel-food cake, in fruit salads, and made into jam. In the long run, I was glad I stopped. (But my hands did get stained with the juice, and I itched for a week.)

But do you know that someone else performed a labor of love that far surpassed anything I could dscn0464do ever for Carol? Where I merely paused on my trip and received a few scratches on my arms, Jesus deliberately left His home in heaven and came to earth to rescue mankind from an eternal separation from God the Father. Jesus didn’t have mere scratches on His arms; the soldiers made a wreath containing inch-long needle-sharp thorns and jammed it onto His head. Jesus purposely allowed Himself to be killed in a gruesome manner in order to reveal the depth of the pain we would suffer eternally without God.

But Jesus doesn’t want us to suffer, and because of Jesus’ labor of love, we can have a home with Him forever. (Romans 8:35-39)

The results of my labor lasted only several months; but the results of Jesus’ labor will never end. I hope you accept God’s Love through Jesus Christ, our Savior. (Luke 19:10, John 3:16)

Forgive, and … What?

I overheard Clarence give the following advice to a mutual friend in Tulsa, “Forgive and forget, then forget what you forgave – otherwise you have not forgiven.” (A colleague had lied to the boss about Richard’s ability to do the job.) Later I told Clarence, “If the Bible says that, I will believe it.” Within a day or so he came up with the following verses:

Isaiah 43:25 – “I, I am the One who forgives all your sins, for my sake; I will not remember your sins.

Psalm 25:7 – Do not remember the sins and wrong things I did when I was young. But remember to love me always because you are good, Lord.

Hebrews 8:12 – I will forgive them for the wicked things they did, and I will not remember their sins anymore.

However, according to my studies, they did not verify Clarence’s statement, so the discussion turned to God’s character and the word “remember” in these verses. Agreeing that God is perfectIMG_1799B in every way, which includes His memory, Clarence asked if God can choose to forget. I suggested that we not confuse the issue, but stick to what the Bible says.

The word “remember” means “to be mindful or cognizant of” and “to hold in continual remembrance.” So, if God “remembers my sin no more” it means, based on my repentance, God forgives me and does not keep thinking about my error. Another way of saying it is: He does not hold that sin against me. I’ve been pardoned.

We then moved to the word “forgive.”

 “To forgive” means “to remove the blemish on the record resulting from the wrongdoing” or “to pardon.” The act of forgiving does not erase the offense or the event in real time because we cannot erase the past; but it is focused on purging the legal record related to the offense.

When President Obama pardoned seventeen people, he “… granted these individuals clemency because they have demonstrated genuine remorse and a strong commitment to being law-abiding, productive citizens and active members of their communities.” Obama did not eradicate what they did, but removed legal liability. That’s what God does for us, and is what we are supposed to do for those who offend us. The offense or event in real time is not erased, but the judicial verdict or sentence related to the event is expunged from our record.

When we allow the Lord to heal us from hurts caused by others, the memory of the offense may actually become clearer and the details of the offense take on sharper focus; yet the pain will be substantially lessened – and possibly erased. Nevertheless, although the offense often IS forgotten, forgiving does not necessarily include forgetting.

Forgiveness is a decision based on our attitude towards God and relationship with Him. One woman in California fabricated a rumor about someone she was jealous of in church. With the intent of damaging the woman’s reputation, the rumor made its predictable circuit and grew substantially in the process. Not yet knowing the outcome of the rumor, the perpetrator’s conscience began to bother her so she went to her victim, confessed, and asked to be forgiven.

The victim said, “I will forgive you, but first let me tell you what you did.” As she recounted the repercussions (which included the breakup of her marriage) of the rumor, both women were deeply sobbing with their arms around each other and the two women became life-long friends.

Personal forgiveness does not always set people free from legal mandates or from physical consequences on the human level. For these two women, repentance was deep, forgiveness was genuine, reconciliation was complete, but the memory remained for life.

In the later 1960s a man in Southern California was arrested for murder. The family of the victim showed up in court and in Christian love truthfully told the judge, “We forgive this man and would like to set him free.”DSCN5212

The presiding judge wisely said, “It is good for you to forgive him, and both God and I honor you for it. Your forgiveness clears the record between you and God. However, this man has also offended the United States of America and justice must be dispensed.”

dscn0464[1]Forgiveness is not about letting the offender off the hook, but returning the right to dispense justice back to God and to the appropriate human authorities. Forgiving others, and asking to be forgiven when we err, keeps our consciences clear.

Clarence and I cleared up the allegations about Richard’s abilities, and the slander backfired on the perpetrator. But the memories remain; so along with the Apostle Paul, we are to humbly forgive others, and use those memories as stepping stones for personal and spiritual growth.

You Can Change Your World

Do you feel trapped? Stuck in a rut? Has life penned you in with no wiggle-room? I calldscn9807 that “mental claustrophobia” and that’s a tough prison. How do we get trapped like that? Some folk might say life has dictated our fate. If you’ve watched the movie “Anne of Green Gables” you could say it’s because of a lack of imagination. Yet others may actually blame God for it.

But: Is it possible that you’ve been afraid of stepping out of your comfort zone to accept a new challenge? Has God been asking you to do something for which you feel unqualified? Please know that not following God’s leadership, for whatever reason, will generate a “stuck syndrome” and the only cure is to step out and obey the Lord. God may want you to change your world.

Here are a few of the brave souls who stepped out of their comfort zone and cooperated with God to change or preserve their world:

  1. For 100 years Noah obeyed God, preached, and endured mental and physical persecution while building the boat to save both humanity and land animals from total annihilation.
  2. Joseph, sold as a slave by his own brothers, obeyed and preserved Jacob’s family to allow it to become the Nation of Israel.
  3. Moses, the prince demoted to a fugitive shepherd, obeyed and led the fledgling nation back to the Promised Land, and compiled the first five books of the Old Testament.
  4. The Apostle Paul obeyed and gave us over half the New Testament.
  5. Martin Luther, standing against the established church, obeyed and reestablished the doctrine of “The just shall live by faith!”
  6. George Washington and Abraham Lincoln fought king and country, and obeyed to give us and preserve for us the United States of America.
  7. Hudson Taylor, one of the greatest missionaries since the Apostle Paul, stepped outside conventional wisdom and founded the China Inland Mission.
  8. Pastor William Boothe resigned his pastorate, obeyed and gave us the Salvation Army.
  9. Blind Fanny Crosby obeyed and gave us over 8,000 hymns.
  10. The Wright Brothers, willing to sacrifice their reputations, gave America the airplane.
  11. Henry Ford stepped outside conventional wisdom and gave mankind the automobile assembly line.
  12. Unknown Billy Graham picked up a Bible and started preaching.
  13. Harland Sanders challenged the restaurant industry and created KFC.
  14. President Kennedy announced the “impossible” and sent man to the moon.
  15. University student Michael Dell built and sold computers from his university dorm room, then his garage, and created the DELL Company.
  16. Robert Jarvik disregarded church doctrine and conventional wisdom and created the Jarvik artificial heart.
  17. And it is our Lord Jesus Christ who descended from heaven, sacrificed his human life, was crucified, died, but rose again, to offer us eternal life.

These people stood up and created a better world for us.

pict0268Great benefits could await us if we dare to step outside our comfort zone. No, I am not suggesting that we put safety and common sense aside, and I am not suggesting that we stop providing for our families. But we may have an invention tucked away in our God-given creative mind, we may have an idea that could improve the quality of life, or we may simply want to reach out and expand our horizons; but we must be willing to take a risk. The risk can span the financial, physical, emotional, or reputational realms; but with proper mentoring we can break out of our mental prison. God doesn’t want us stuck. Dependable, yes! But not stuck.

Now, if you are happy and content where you are and with what you are doing, don’t make a change for the sake of change; God may want you right where you are. And if you place a higher priority on security than on adventure, then stay where you are. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with that. But if for some reason you are unsettled with life as-is, talk with a counselor or a mentor you trust, and pray about it. God may have something in mind for you to do. And if the Lord does lead you to change your direction in life, don’t give a half-hearted effort; be diligent in what you do.pict0848

But remember, God doesn’t choose those who are self-reliant for His tasks; rather He chooses those who will cooperate with Him.

There is no need to feel trapped or stuck. Pray about your situation. As you cooperate with God, you might change your world.

Detours in Life

Have you ever encountered a road-block or a detour? Is it frustrating? Aggravating? Do you wish you could give someone a piece of your mind?

Throughout our many travels, Carol and I find ourselves on detours periodically. For example,thFS0NDQ2Y several years ago we were minding our own business heading west on Interstate 70 when, suddenly, the dreaded sign appeared: Detour Ahead.

Carol had been napping, and although I was tired, I decided to stay awake – primarily because I was driving. But when the monotonous road noise changed, she woke up.

“Where are you going?” she asked.

“Well, I was making a bee-line to Denver, but at present, your guess is as good as mine.” Watching the actions of other drivers, it appeared that they might not have been as nonchalant as I was about the turn-of-events. I chuckled.

Carol asked, “What’s funny?”

“Precious, those poor drivers have not learned that emotional upheavals cannot change the way the highway departments do things – either good or bad. And they haven’t yet learned the value of detours in life.”

“Yeah, I suppose you are right. But where ARE we going now?”

“We’re heading north on Kansas State Road 232. Anything interesting on the map?”

After a few minutes of confirming our location, she said, “There is something called ‘The Garden of Eden’ on highway 18 between Lucas and Luray. Wanna go?”

“Sure; why not?”

We discovered Wilson Lake, and the scenery was beautiful. We stopped at The Garden of Eden to check it out. (We don’t recommend it; it’s not what the name infers.) After a bite to eat, we continued to Walde, Kansas. There we could have followed the detour signs and headed south toward Russell, resuming our monotonous freeway noise again. But since we were having such a good time seeing part of the country we had never encountered, we continued going through the towns on highway 18 until we arrived at Bogue, Kansas.

There we got onto highway 24 and drove another 100 miles to Colby where we were reacquainted with I-70. Carol and I thoroughly enjoyed our detour and learned more about our country. The detour set us back almost 3 hours; but that was not lost time–it was time invested together. And more importantly, my Precious and I made new memories together.

IMG_1434On another trip, we were returning from Missouri where we spent several days with two of my sisters and a brother. We had a good time. On the way back I said, “Let’s go home on some roads we’ve never been on. Carol chimed in: “Then let’s go to the War Eagle Craft Fair.” I agreed.

We turned onto Missouri highway 86. At a small town called Blue Eye, we headed south and found Arkansas 221. Again, Carol and I were enjoying the beautiful scenery. But at one point without warning, the asphalt highway morphed into a gravel road.

“Are you lost?” Carol asked.

“No, but we ran out of 221.” We laughed.

When we stopped at a cabin for advice, the man told us how to get back to civilization, eventually getting to Rogers, AR.

“Where will that route take us?” I asked.

“That’ll take ya through Eureka Springs, less you wanna either truck on the way yer goin fer nuther two hours throwin gravel, or back-track cupla hours.”

I thanked him and got back in the GMC Envoy. After discussing our options, we laughingly headed up to Eureka Springs–on a road we didn’t even know existed–and had dinner at one of our favorite places. We barely got to the War Eagle Craft Fair in time to check it out.

Detours don’t upset or aggravate us. They’re part of life. Our traveling motto is: “If we hit a detour, make a vacation out of it.” We’ve learned, however, to schedule into our plans extra time to allow for such excursions. And if we encounter no detours, we arrive early. Yay!

Some time ago I learned the following: “Inner peace begins the moment you choose not to letPICT0033 another person or event control your emotions.” I cannot control you or the highway department, but I can control my plans and reactions. I do this by asking God for direction in life which enables me to face life’s uncertainties with confidence.

Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.” Who knows? Maybe God purposely arranges some detours to gauge our maturity level.

Happy traveling, friends. 

Enhanced Character Reduces Stress

So you want to improve your character? Zig Ziglar said: “The foundation stones for a Dad's 85th0009balanced success are honesty, character, integrity, faith, love and loyalty.”

So how do we improve our character or integrity? Think about the following account.

An acquaintance of mine was on his way to an appointment when his right front tire blew out. He immediately lost control of the car; he hit the guard rail, bounced into another car, and finally came to a stop in the median. It was called an accident.

A legal definition of accident is: an unforeseen event that occurs without anyone’s fault or negligence.

Sooooo, was this truly an accident? The answer is No. Why? It could easily have beenPICT0027 prevented! He knew that his tire pressure was very low but he wouldn’t take time to inflate it to the proper pressure. “I’ll take care of it next Saturday.” he said. But he didn’t.

Proper tire care can prevent many automobile calamities, and really, we are never too busy to be safe. My friend understood the benefit of punctuality (honoring others by being on time) but he didn’t quite figure out the benefit of initiative (accomplishing what needs to be done in a timely manner).

While not all problems are this simplistic, many of them are. A fatal situation I read about some time ago was when a father ran over his five-year-old son in the driveway of his own home. Was that truly an accident?

The father said that he didn’t know the child was out of the house. Guess what? The kid is dead! All the dad needed to do was walk around the car to check for children, bicycles, toys, etc. before putting the key in the ignition. If the father had made alertness part of his daily habit (being aware of what is happening around me so I can respond properly), the child might still be alive today. Believe me: he does the walk-around now.

Jesus wants us to be safe and aware of what is happening; so being alert enhances not only our character, but also can make us more like Christ.

So I ask the question again: were these events truly accidents? The answer in a great many situations will be “No.” Instead, these situations were caused by negligence, ignorance, apathy—or a combination of the three. So what is needed to rectify those situations? What does it take for personal growth?

You can call it character, integrity, reliability, or spirituality. I don’t care. Whatever you call it, I call it Godly Character. Character is what determines a person’s response regardless of the situation.

In Reflections On Faith & History [found at https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=node%3D154606011&field-Front cover - finalkeywords=Reflections+On+Faith+%26+History], I addressed numerous questions that many people asked me through the years. My desire was to help people grow both spiritually and intellectually by helping them to gain a more complete understanding of the Bible. I did this by presenting some of the history and culture of the times as it related to the Scriptures. Learning also helps us grow in our character or integrity. It is actually learning to become like Christ.

1) We learn to know and to incorporate the mind of Christ.

2) We learn to interact with others in a wholesome, uplifting manner.

3) We learn to stop being self-centered.

4) We are enabled to fulfill our destiny and enjoy life.

I was a bi-vocational pastor while working at a national laboratory. I had previously worked in the aerospace industry, direct sales, and several other areas. Wherever I went I watched people at work, at play, in the stores shopping, and driving their cars. It was apparent that many people–including Christian–were either uninformed about how to properly conduct themselves, or they didn’t care. It didn’t make sense to me until I began studying about character and integrity.

I found that if we attentively–the key is attentively–read about the Lord and study His integrity, His character, His nature, and diligently apply Biblical principles to life and life’s circumstances, we will be surprised at how our lives will be changed for the better. We will be able to traverse life with less stress, less frustration, more understanding of people, more personal contentment, and live a more fulfilled life. Reading First Corinthians 13:4-7 will help.

So, how does this reduce stress? I’m glad you asked.

As I grow in my understanding of life, I have less reason to get upset over mistakes, errors, or misunderstandings. I am more apt to see things from Jesus’ point of view, and can more easily forgive people. This allows peace to flow through my being and I can share that peace with others.

As you think on the character of Jesus, I pray that you, too, learn to incorporate His integrity into your life.