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.

Critical Thinking

When I was a teenager, people told me, “Stop being so critical!” Have you ever been told that? “Stop being so picky!” is another version. Yet another exhortation, “Listen to that he means, not what he says.” Wow! Since I cannot read minds, THAT’S a tricky one. 

However, we must intelligently analyze life to understand life.

For over a century our educational system diligently taught critical thinking as part of its mission. And wePICT1473 are told that nearly all American educational institutions still teach critical thinking; but do they really? My answer is a resounding NO! Several years ago, we found that “post-modernism” discarded critical thinking. Let’s look into it.

Critical Thinking: “Disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence. The mental process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing and evaluating information to reach an answer or conclusion.” The word “critical” comes from “kriticos”, a Greek word meaning “discerning judgment.” So, a critical thinker is searching for truth. My father taught me how to think critically, yet without being condemning.

Ruth Mayhew of Demand Media said, “Critical thinking is ‘self-guided, self-disciplined thinking which attempts to reason at the highest level of quality in a fair-minded way. People who think critically consistently attempt to live rationally, reasonably.’”

Clear thinking is essential for making appropriate decisions about what to believe and do, whether for personal decisions such as religious beliefs and who to marry; and vocational decisions, or civic decisions such as voting or serving on a jury. Without a well-informed, critically-thinking citizenry, freedom and democracy will falter and justice will be non-existent. Have you assessed our judicial and political systems recently? Many Judges and lawyers often discard truth in favor of procedures, word-games, personal agendas, or intimidation. I saw on the news yesterday [as of this writing] that a man on death row for murder – who had testified that, indeed, he murdered the girl – was released by a judge because of a technicality in the judicial process.

We should employ critical thinking during conflict resolution which requires understanding issues from several viewpoints. Understanding people’s needs requires critical thinking. Socrates talked about the important role critical thinking plays in our ability to consider an issue and decide what to do or believe. Critical thinking should be employed while shopping or caring for children.

DSCN1300Critical thinkers must take the context of every situation into account and think on a multi-level platform in order to come to proper conclusions. Homeschoolers have an advantage for learning critical thinking skills because they can incorporate these lessons into it their curriculum – as every educational system should do. When a person is able to make correct, intelligent choices on complex matters, he is considered intelligent and competent.

Critical thinking is required in deciding whether a claim is true, partially true, or false. It is a tool we use to arrive at reasoned conclusions based on a reasoned process. Fortunately, as with all skills, we can learn to think critically.

Now let’s apply the principle.

We read that: 1) It’s possible for a “rogue planet” to hit the earth and wipe out humanity. 2) If we vote for this person he’ll stop the problem in Congress. 3) It’s inferred that this automobile will get you the prettiest girl. Let’s address the politician first.

Regrettably, it takes only one person (US President or a judge) to negate good morals and legalizeDSCN5212 immorality. But it takes a distinct majority of the Senate and House to change direction or change a law for the better – and even then, one judge is allowed to negate the will of the people. This is wrong. Why doesn’t the US Congress apply the checks and balances which are built into the US Constitution? They are not thinking critically.

Thinking critically would entail: How will this bill or law affect the people in my district, my state, and the nation? Do the people understand the repercussion of the bill? If they don’t, I need to tell them. To say, “Let’s pass this thing so we can see what is says” does not display critical thinking. Rather, it was one of the most absurd and ignorant political statements in the history of our nation.

How about a “rogue planet”? Thinking critically we should ask: “Is this a hypothesis, theory, or fact? Is this someone’s imagination, or is there substantiation for the fear? Does he have solid evidence on which to base his claim?” Well, [thinking critically] since Scripture says that Jesus will rule this earth for 1,000 years, I don’t think we need to worry about an imaginary rogue planet.

And the car? THINK! Is the girl attracted to you or to the car? If she is attracted to a nifty or spectacular car, you won’t want her unless you are a flake. It takes more than a car to attract an intelligent girl.

Critical thinking produces information on which we can base our lives. Psalm 111:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” And Godly wisdom is mandatory in critical thinking.

HEAVEN

     You have politics coming out your ears, but have you thought about heaven? The word “heaven” is in the Bible (KJV) 457 times so it must be important. What is Heaven?

Dumbbell nebula
Dumbbell nebula from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telesco

Heaven is contemplated on three levels: The firmament, or atmosphere; (Gen. 2:19); the stars or outer space (Matt. 24:29); and God’s throne (Deut. 10:14). Heaven has various names: New Jerusalem (Rev. 3:12), Everlasting Kingdom (2 Pet. 1:11), Eternal Inheritance (Heb. 9:15), a Better Country (Heb. 11:16), and My Father’s house (John 14:2). There is neither suffering nor evil in heaven (Rev. 21:4). 

     Where is Heaven? This is difficult to answer because the Bible doesn’t tell us. However, heaven is where God the Father is, and is where Christians go when our bodies stop breathing. But heaven is not a million miles away. Heaven isn’t “out there” somewhere. When believers close their eyes in death, they immediately wake up in Heaven.

     1Thessalonians 4:13-18 says (NLT) says:

DSCN0508B
Total solar eclipse from my camera

“And now, brothers and sisters, I want you to know what will happen to the Christians who have died so you will not be full of sorrow like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus comes, God will bring back with Jesus all the Christians who have died. I can tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not rise to meet him ahead of those who are in their graves. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the call of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, all the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and remain with him forever. So comfort and encourage each other with these words.”

 

     One little commentary on that Scripture: It appears that the Christians’ spirits will come back from heaven with Jesus and be reunited with their bodies coming out of the graves.

     How do we get to Heaven? Whenever we want to go somewhere: we know where we are, we decide where we want to go, we enter a vehicle and GO. So where are we? In a sinful world. Where do we want to go? To Heaven. How do we get there? Jesus is the only way to Heaven (John 14:6). We must accept Jesus into our life, and live for Him. And until Jesus returns, we go through the door called “death”. But for believers it is the “Door to Life”.

     Jesus said in John 14:1-3 (NLT) says: “Don’t be troubled. You trust God, now trust in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s home, and I am going to prepare a place for you. If this were not so, I would tell you plainly. When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.”

     Jesus died to redeem mankind. Defeating death, He returned to life and will live forever. He wants you to live forever with Him. You will never have to lock your doors again. You will never be afraid again. You will never be hurt again. But if Jesus does not return soon, we all will die.

     What does that feel like? Many times our kids fell asleep on the couch or on the floor of the living room but woke up in their bed. In the morning they asked, “How

PICT0033
Our children – decades ago

did I get here?” And my Precious Wife told them, “After you fell asleep, your father picked you up and took you to your room.”

 

     That is what death is like for the Christian. Whether we leave this life because of sickness, an accident, or old age; we merely fall asleep here in our “living room”, but we wake up in Heaven because our Father took us to our new home.”

     Are you living the way God wants you to live? If you died today would you go through the door that I call LIFE and live with Jesus, or go through the other door? Is there anything you need to ask God to forgive you for? Don’t be afraid to talk to God about it. He loves you very much and wants to forgive you. He wants you in Heaven with Him.

A BLESSED CHRISTMAS

Said the shepherd boy to the little lamb, “Do you see what I see?”

Way up in the sky little lamb, “Do you see what I see?”

A star, a star, shining in the night, it will bring us beauty and light.

It will bring us beauty and light.

    DSCN4172Thinking about that song brought many thoughts to my mind.  Allow me to share them with you.

     The shepherds, watching their flocks out in the field, looked up into the cool fall sky. Suddenly, one of the shepherds jumped up and cried out, “Look! Do you see what I see?” The others quickly looked – and in Luke 2:10-12 the lead angel made the announcement as the other shepherds shielded their eyes from the bright light:

“Do not be afraid. I am bringing you good news that will be a great joy to all the people. Today your Savior was born in the town of David. He is Christ, the Lord. This is how you will know him: You will find a new-born baby wrapped in white cloth, lying in a manger.”DSCN0574

     The shepherds, following the heavenly directions, quickly went to the cave or animal stall where Joseph and Mary were. When they saw the new-born baby who was declared by the angels to be God, one of the shepherds slowly knelt down, and incredulously asked, “Do you see what I see?” And their lives were changed forever!

     Anna, the 84-year old prophetess, was in the temple when Joseph and Mary brought Jesus in to be circumcised and blessed. When Anna saw the 8-day old Baby in Mary’s arms, she said gently and worshipfully, “Do you see what I see? I thank you, O Great Jehovah, for allowing my eyes to see the salvation of Israel.” She then prayed over baby Jesus, and began telling everyone what she saw: “People listen. This Little One is the Messiah for whom we all have been waiting. Let’s Worship the King!” And her life was changed forever!

     The Wise Men spent much time studying the sky. They were the scientists of their day and were advisors to their king. They were probably from Persia, which would include DSCN0309Iran and Iraq today. One night, one of the astronomers suddenly called to his colleagues, “Look! Do you see what I see?” The others gathered around and were amazed at the startling message unfolding in the sky, for it told them that a new King was born in Israel. Because of the writings left by Daniel back around 560 BC, they had been expecting it, and within six months, they left on a caravan for the Promised Land. Finding the house and kneeling down in front of Mary who was holding the child who was nearly a year old, the noblemen worshipfully said:  

   Here, most highly honored King, exalted by God in the heavens. We give you Gold: a treasure which does not tarnish or rust, it is a gift to royalty and conveys our life-long worship to you.

   We give you Frankincense: an aromatic treasure which we hope conveys the aroma of our love and adoration of You to the exalted God in the heavens.

   And we give you Myrrh: to make Your life on earth sweet.

And their lives were changed forever!

     Do you see what happened? Whenever people encounter the Living God, their lives are changed! And when someone’s life is truly changed, that person will change the world around them.

     As the shepherds went back to their flocks, they told everyone they met about the new Messiah for months to come because their lives had been changed. And they changed their world as they spread the Good News.

     At eighty-four, you know that she told people about the new Messiah for the rest of her life because her life had been changed. And she changed her world as she told folk who came to the Temple to worship.

     And the Wise men made an international impact, for they changed their world whichPICT0057 was the Middle-East. They told people in the trade caravans, the scientific community, kings and nobility about the new King.  That’s because their lives had been changed.

     Has your life been changed? Do you tell people about Jesus our Savior, or are you afraid of offending someone? God is calling you to change your world by being a faithful witness about what you have both seen and heard. Go ahead – people need to hear the Good News.

     Have you seen what I have seen?

God’s Amazing Grace

Have you read and thought about the words to John Newton’s famous hymn “Amazing Grace”?

Let me refresh your memory with the first verse:

     Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!

     I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind, but now I see.Boy

As a teenager I told my dad, a Navy Chaplain, “I can’t sing the song because I am not a wretch.” But my father, a wise man, said, “The man who wrote that song was speaking about himself. You need to read about him. But before you do, look up the word.” So I did.

“Wretch” is traced to the Old English “wrecca” which means “banished person.” It also means “a despicable, worthless, contemptible, or vile person.”

Well, that didn’t apply to me as a thirteen-year-old boy. The worst thing I ever did was lie to my parents and fight with my siblings. Maybe I talked back to my parents, and cheated on a test. Oh whatever – but I decided that I was NOT a wretch!

When dad asked me what I found out, I gave my report about how bad I was NOT. Granting that I was overall a good boy, dad asked me a strange question: “Are you in the same category as Jesus – one who has never sinned?”

“Of course I have sinned,” I said. “But I’m still not a wretch!” What was dad getting at anyway? Had I done something really bad that I had forgotten about? I didn’t think so. Well, I did shoot at cars with my Red Rider B-B gun one time; but the B-Bs never even came close to the cars which were a quarter-mile away. And I’m sure dad never knew about that.

Dad had turned to James 2:10 in the New Testament and read: “And the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as the person who has broken all of God’s laws.” He then asked me what it meant. All I did was to repeat the verse because it was self-explanatory.

“So,” dad asked, “are you any better than John Newton?”

Rev. John Newton was born July 24, 1725 and died December 21, 1807. In his later years, he was an Anglican minister, hymn-writer, and supported the English abolition of slavery. So, what’s the deal about a wretch? There’s more to the story.

The son of a British shipmaster, the Royal Navy captured John – a common way of drafting men into the military, sometimes called “shanghaied.” Somewhat of a rebel, he was flogged and sold into slavery. He referred to himself as “a servant of slaves in West Africa.” But he was eventually set free; and, although having been a victim of slavery, he became a slave trader.

ShipAlthough it was totally demeaning, barbaric, and inhuman to the captured Africans, it was a lucrative endeavor. Not only that, it was a joint-effort: black Africans were capturing neighboring black Africans and selling the ones they didn’t kill to the white slave-traders.

Newton married a Christian, and made a confession of faith in Christ, but continued in the evil, inhumane business of treating human beings worse than he treated his dog.

When offered a better position, Newton quit the slave trade and grew in his understanding of the evil nature of slavery. By the late 1760s Newton’s conscience was gnawing at him in such a way that he finally realized the wretchedness of his malevolent, cruel involvement, and how much he had offended God.

God had revealed His “Amazing Grace” to Newton, and the song was written in 1773. InCross 1788, thirty-four years after Newton left slavery, he wrote a pamphlet titled “Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade.” He described the hellish conditions of the slave ships, and said, “It will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders.” He joined William Wilberforce, and in 1807 they led the charge of ending the slave trade in England.

Dad was waiting for my response. I said, “According to James 2:10, since I have sinned in other areas, I am no better than a slave trader, a murderer, or anything else. I guess without Christ I did fit the ‘wretch’ category.”

Dad said, “Good boy. That is the correct conclusion.”

I now could sing the song. But it took me many years to fully understand the true wretchedness of a person without Christ. And I also understand, decades later, that if I fail to live for the Lord in the best way I know how, I would still be a wretch. 

Want about you? Have you thought about it?

Life After Death

Joe asked, “Stephen Hawking made the statement that there is no life after death. Wouldn’t that mean that Jesus is still dead? How might Scripture respond to his comment?”

The following is a quote from No Heaven? Why Stephen Hawking’s Comment Doesn’t Matter by Stephanie Pappas on May 16, 2011. “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail,” Hawking said in The Guardian. “There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”

I appreciated Joe’s question, but here is an eye-opener: Hawking’s statement is nothingIMG_1085B less than a statement of faith. Why? Because believing that there is no God is a religious conviction. Hawking was a dedicated scientist with a background in mathematics, physics, and cosmology; not religion or theology. Also Hawking had Lou Gehrig’s disease, was a quadriplegic, was confined to a wheelchair, and had no use for a god who wouldn’t heal him. His humanistic faith was based on the fact that he could not see God and couldn’t prove that there is a God.

Going one step further, Mr. Hawking placed his faith in science. In reality, that made science his god.

This is indeed a shaky foundation, because many scientists throughout history were and are devout followers of Jesus Christ and Jehovah God. Their scientific endeavors have verified to them that there IS a God.

I am continually surprised by the number of people who put faith in famous actors, theologians, scientists, and philosophers who disavow faith in Almighty God. We need to wake up. Fame doesn’t grant access to sources of spiritual knowledge that are inaccessible to the rest of mankind.

Some say that we Christians and Jews cannot prove there is a God, and they are correct. By the help of the Holy Spirit and through Scripture we can know Jesus, but we cannot prove to others He is alive or that He is God. Believing in someone or something we Atheist Symbolcannot prove is, by definition, faith.

But hold on now: NOT believing in someone or something without proof is also, by definition, faith. Hawking did not believe in life after death because that includes heaven and hell; which, in turn, requires a belief in a Creator: God. Mr. Hawking had a very strong faith that declared there is no god.

Psalm 14:1-3 describes the condition of those who refuse to believe in God. Psalm 14:1 and Psalm 53:1 say that whoever does not believe in God is foolish. I didn’t say that; Scripture did. Also, Proverbs 18:2 informs us that whoever is not interested in gaining [spiritual] understanding is foolish, for they are interested only in expressing their own opinions.

There is no scientific proof for or against life after death; either way it is a matter of faith. And believing that God is either real or a myth are both matters of faith. But there is more to faith in God and Jesus Christ than mere believing.

In the Bible and throughout history many people have spoken of their interaction with God. People have experienced, in powerful, personal ways, strong affirmations of God’s healing, presence, and provision in this world as well as His promises concerning life in the next (Luke 23:43; John 14:1-6; Rev. 21-22). Untold millions of people have studied Biblical claims and extra-Biblical claims; some have returned after dying and have a dynamically different conclusion from Hawking’s. Scripture teaches us about life after death which is called eternal life. Scripture alone is proof for us, but we cannot, in turn, prove it to anyone else. It’s a matter of faith.

Billy Graham could not speak authoritatively on science or the universe, but he was aSatellite Dish giant in the kingdom of God. In like manner, Mr. Hawking has credibility in cosmology and physics because of his work in the field (although I don’t agree with him on several scientific issues); but he has no credibility in the realm of Scripture or spiritual matters.

We all have faith, but the Bible leaves it up to each individual regarding where we will place our faith. Nevertheless, the historical declaration in Scripture is: Jesus Is Alive! There is life after death.

The darkness to which Hawking refers is reserved only for those who reject God. And that statement refers to God as found in the Holy Bible – not some other god. Therefore, examine Scripture, seek the truth, and choose life.