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?

What Song Are You Singing?

Five years ago, Carol and I attended a church meeting where Ron and Tanya (our son and his wife) and their singing family were ministering. In his presentation, Ron discussed how music is produced. Ron started with, “What song are you singing?” I enjoyed that message.

What is the basic ingredient of music? No, that’s the wrong question. What makes music? That’s closer, but still not it. What produces music? That’s it! What produces the sound?

Ron shared with the congregation that music and singing – ALL music and singing – is generated by friction and/or vibration. Another view is: all friction and vibration produce some kind of “music”.

The bow across the violin (string instruments) generates friction. The air through the mouth-piece of the clarinet (reed instruments), flutes and piccolos, and across the lips of trumpet players (brass instruments) generates vibrations. The piano produces music by the hammers impacting the strings, which generates vibration. The drums need no explanation. Then, of course, the various instruments transform the vibration or friction into musical notes.

Oh, I missed something. Talking is produced when the vocal muscles come close together, and the air passing over them sets up a vibration. And singing is merely talking according to musical note patterns and holding the sound according to specific timing. As we constrict the vocal chords, the sound or tune goes up. As we relax the muscles, the sound or tune goes down. That principle holds true with tightening or relaxing the strings on stringed instruments; also when shortening or lengthening the airway (using valves) on brass instruments. Well, some trombones have valves where most have slides

As the sound is produced, harmonics, partials, fundamentals, frequencies, chords, waves, overtones, and much more come into play. There are twenty-one major “keys” such as the keys of “C” and “G sharp”.

I just spoke the sentence “All sound is musical in nature” near the piano. I then played the keys to match my words “All sound.” The notes were “D” for “All” and “D flat” dropping to “G” for “sound.” When I spoke, various strings in the piano began vibrating – this deals with harmonics. Again, singing is talking according to note patterns. .

So, as you talk, what “song” are you singing? What words are you putting in your song?

Are you a griper? Do you gossip? Are you a whiner or a complainer? Do you “thunder” at people, condemn others, or put them down? Are you often depressed or angry? Are you often pessimistic or overly critical of others?

Or are you normally joyful? Do you bless others by both your words and by your prevailing attitude? Do you defend people? Are you an encourager? Do you help people by “carrying” their emotional load?

Friend, what song are you singing?

Gripers, gossipers, condemners are like musical groups (vocal and instrumental) who are out of tune, and where some members are on the wrong page – or even playing a different song. Some folk are like a raucus rock group where lyrics and quality of music make no difference; rather it is merely their presence and volume that are important. As these people dwell in the negative, irritating side of life, they would be surprised at the friction, harmonics, and overtones they produce. That kind of “music” or attitude greatly reduces the quality of life for both speaker and hearer.

Oh! But joyful people – those who encourage and bless others, those who have Godly content in their words and attitudes – are like a magnificent concert orchestra and choir. Their harmonics are a gift from the Lord.

While the Mormons and I may have theological differences, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is one of the best choirs I’ve ever heard. And I enjoy hearing the United States Marine Band play any of John Philip Souza’s marches. But I suppose my greatest musical appreciation is directed to Handel’s “Messiah”. That oratorio, properly sung and played causes my spirit to soar, because from start to finish it honors my Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Even as of this writing, I have excruciating back pain, but my song today is: “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free; For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.”

Friend, by your life, words, actions, and attitude, what song are you singing? What message do you present to the world – just by “being you”?

London Bridge – Redeemed History

In April of 2015, Carol and I went to California to speak at the annual USS Yorktown Survivor’s Club Reunion. The keynote speaker, Rear Admiral Mac McClaughlin, spoke at our banquet on the USS Midway in San Diego Harbor.

Spending a night in Kingman, Arizona, Carol said, “In 50 miles we’ll get to Arizona Highway 95. Driving south on 95, it is only about 25 miles to Lake Havasu and the London Bridge, and we haven’t seen the London Bridge for about 40 years. Let’s go see it.”

“Your wish is my command, my love.”

Some travelers say the scenery in that part of the country is desolate, hot, and dry. Well, it may be hot and dry in the summer, but I’m not sure it’s desolate: you should see the numerous animals inhabiting the land. And it is beautiful! Between Kingman and the southern tip of the Lake, we took over 200 pictures.

Does the bridge look any different from 40 years ago? It is the same, but the town has certainly grown around it.

But the bridge! Straight from London, it is redeemed history! When you look at the bridge you are looking at part of London in 1831AD. But you see the Stars and Stripes and the British Jack flying alternately on poles on the bridge because it is also now part of American history.

The first bridge over the Thames (pronounced Tĕmz) was of wood construction probably built by the Romans near the village of Londinium prior to Jesus’ time. Destroyed and rebuild numerous times, Henry II chose Peter of Colechurch to oversee the reconstruction of the bridge, but this time it would be a substantial structure. Finished in 1163, it was the last wooden London Bridge. Lasting for over 600 years, it was considered a “wonder of the world.”

But it, too, eventually had to be replaced. John Rennie and his son oversaw the work, and you might say it was a “rock-solid structure” because this bridge, completed in 1831, was made of stone. The bridge weighed about 130,000 tons. The USS Ronald Reagan, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, has a displacement of over 103,000 tons, so you get an idea of the bridge’s weight.

However, not having a stable foundation, the bridge sank about one-fourth inch annually. Another problem: it wasn’t made to withstand the heavy traffic of modern society. By 1924, the east side had sunk about four inches lower than the west side. The bridge had become a concern to the community, and they considered tearing it down.

But someone had a novel idea: Council member Ivan Luckin suggested selling the bridge. The rest of the London City Council thought he was crazy! However, with no other viable idea forth-coming, they decided to look for a buyer. Surprisingly, Robert P. McCulloch was interested.

McCulloch is the founder of Lake Havasu City, Arizona – a retirement and real estate development project on the east shore of Lake Havasu. He bought the bridge in 1964 for $2,460,000 as a tourist attraction to his city. But it was a chore getting it to Arizona. He couldn’t just pick it up by helicopter and haul it over. In time, they developed a plan.

The stones of the bridge were individually numbered as the bridge was disassembled, and the plan for reassembly was simultaneously drawn up. The stones were shipped through the Panama Canal to California, then hauled by truck to Lake Havasu, Arizona. The Sundt Construction Company laboriously reassembled it, but modified the plan and reassembly procedure to meet current safety code for bridges. Therefore, the bridge is hollow with substantial steel reinforcement, and was fully reassembled in 1971. The weight of the modified bridge is about 30,000 tons.

The lamp posts on the bridge were made from Napoleon Bonaparte’s cannons, and the bridge has been in two American movies (“Day Of The Wolves” and “Bridge Across Time”). And, of course, it is the world’s largest antique.

In 1960, the bridge was considered useless, and was to be destroyed. But in 1964 Robert McCulluch redeemed it and made it a magnificent, important part of his plan in Lake Havasu.

Jesus did the same for you and me. Having sunk in the muck and mire of sin, mankind had become useless to God. But God, in the person of Jesus Christ, died on the cross for us and provided redemption for “whosoever will.” All that’s required of us is to stop living to please ourselves, ask God to forgive us for our sin and selfishness, live for Jesus Christ, honor God with our whole life, and help others.

And we will become an important part of God’s magnificent, eternal plan.

Works? or God’s Grace?

Martin Luther stated that we are saved by grace, but I read in the book of James that we must do “works” to be saved. And I was told that we don’t live under law anymore. Please explain this.              C.K.

Martin Luther was quoting the Apostle Paul, so you might be pitting the Apostles Paul and James against each other (and James was Jesus’ half-brother).

Paul said in Ephesians 2:8–9, “By grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God. Not by works, lest any man should boast.” And James said in James 2:17–18, “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith” (NRSV).

Paul was talking to those who came from an idolatrous background, and whose “worship” consisted of “religious activity.” It didn’t matter what they thought or whether or not they believed in God. Rather, it was things they did that others could see that got them points with God. They thought they had to earn their way to heaven. So Paul emphasized that our actions (works) will not save us, or even prove our relationship with God. Paul was attempting to balance their belief system.

James came from the opposite direction. He was talking to different people who believed that they could say anything, do anything, and live any way they pleased (including moral debauchery); but as long as they had good thoughts in their mind or said the right words, God would accept them and they were saved. But James told them that what they called faith was fruitless, inactive, or non-existent if their actions didn’t support or verify their words. He told them that if we are saved (if we actually have a living relationship with God) our lifestyle (works, obedience) will verify it. James was attempting to balance this other extreme view.

Paul said that salvation cannot be earned or worked for: it is a gift. And James said good works and Godly living will be a result of our faith in Jesus Christ.

So Paul and James are both correct. Nothing we do can gain us favor with God. Words in and of themselves are meaningless, and works in and of themselves are hollow. Rather, God is concerned about what we are. If our relationship with God through Jesus Christ is established, our words and works will be guided by the Holy Spirit and will be authoritative and powerful. What we believe AND what we do will be affected by (or because of) our relationship with God.

Both Martin Luther and the Apostle Paul will agree with this: Our actions or lifestyle (works), thoughts and beliefs (faith) are both necessary to live for Christ. Good works will not save us. But because we are saved, we will do good works.

Now, there is a controversy over living under grace versus living under law.

Regardless of what we say we believe, those who purposely continue to live in sin will live under the law and will be judged by the law. The only reason we live under grace is because we have stopped living in sin, confessed our sin, asked God to forgive us, and we now obey God’s law. But whoever reverts to a sinful life, reverts to living under law.

That is not circular-reasoning, but Godly logic. Just try telling a policeman that you cannot get a ticket for driving 100 mph because you live under grace. The patrolman might say, “Very well; after you pay the ticket, you can resume living under grace – if you obey the law.”

Someone asked if I were a legalist. I told him that Jesus said In Matt. 5:17-18, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, ‘till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, ‘till all be fulfilled.” So, am I a legalist? Perhaps – in the correct meaning of the word. I do believe in the law.

However, Romans 8:1 says, “There is no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” Therefore, as long as I obey God’s law, I live under grace.

Look Beyond the Lights

What do you want for Christmas? Last year, that question was asked numerous times in over 127 million homes in the United States, and it was amazing what kind of answers were given.

According to a Gallup poll, American adults will spend an average of $920 on Christmas gifts this year. And another report stated if all the Christmas money was spent on American products, it could create over 4,000,000 jobs.

Here’s some interesting trivia. In the USA, 62% of us buy our gifts the week before Christmas, 47% of women would want jewelry, 32% of men prefer gift vouchers, and 23% of men and women won’t make their choices without the help of social media. You can find much more information on the internet about every facet of Christmas holiday life. Oh, yes: 43% of Americans put up decorations before Thanksgiving Day.

Eight hundred years from now, if some historian dug up these statistics, plus all the rest of the information I didn’t print here, would he or she know what Christmas was all about? I know how my dad would respond. He would ask, “How many people TODAY know what Christmas is all about?”

In the third paragraph of this reflection, I said you can find much more information on the internet about every facet of Christmas holiday life. Although that might be true, it is somewhat misleading because what is called Christmas holiday life does not speak about Jesus Christ, and Christmas was originally all about Christ. Therefore, we need to separate Christmas holiday life, which is secular, from Christmas and a Celebration of Christ Jesus, which is holy.

I admit, every mid-December, Carol and I like to drive around and look at the houses that are illuminating the neighborhood with lights and winter scenes, with a few nativity scenes interspersed. We’ve taken hundreds of pictures over the years of some the more spectacular settings in Seattle, Dallas, Tulsa, San Diego, Albuquerque, and other places.

Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Ho-ho-ho. The Chipmunks singing. Choirs. Cantatas. Lights all around town! But what’s going on in real life? What would we discover if we looked beyond the lights?

In one direction, we find a lot of temporary happiness, fun, parties, and gift-giving taking place. Many folks indulge in alcoholic drinking, over-eating, and immorality of every kind in an attempt to mask their emotional emptiness and interpersonal problems. That’s like putting duct tape over a gash in the tire, hoping the tire won’t go flat again. Duct tape won’t work for a flat tire, and after the holiday blitz is over, the problems, pain, and depression remain unchanged; and many people terminate their lives hoping to end it all!

However, if we look in the other direction, we find people who see the light-filled season in a different light. Pardon the pun.

Joy? Fun? Parties? Gift-giving? Cantatas? Yes, and a whole lot more! But the joyful times experienced by these folks are not masking hurts, pains, or depressions. Those who know and honor the Lord Jesus Christ give of themselves and of their resources to help those who are in need. The celebration is real, and reminiscent of the light-filled sky the shepherds experienced more than 2,020 years ago when the angels made the world-changing announcement about the baby they would see wrapped up and lying in a manger. And giving gifts to others reminds us of the Wise Men who honored Almighty God as they gave gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the child, Jesus Christ, in Mary’s lap.

Oh, yes. I know that many non-Christians give to others who are hurting. Various businesses have turkey-drives and toy-drives, and our society supports numerous charities. I am grateful for that. We have government programs that help the homeless to some degree. But those activities and programs provide only short-term help.

When the Christmas season is over, what do people do? Think about it.

If the pain, problems, and depression haven’t been resolved, people start the next year with the same bitter or hopeless outlook on life they had before Thanksgiving. But there is hope!

That hope is found in relationship with Almighty God through the Lord, Jesus Christ. But we have to look beyond the lights, beyond the glitz, beyond the noise and hoopla that the world throws in our face. We need to look into the face of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Joy in Sorrow

Several years ago, Carol and I were in San Diego, California to officiate at a military funeral for a good friend. Victor was a WWII veteran, and served on the USS Yorktown, CV-5, with my father. The Yorktown was sunk in the Battle of Midway, but most of the crew survived. Vic and my father were members of the USS Yorktown CV-5 Survivor’s Club, and dad was the chaplain. When I attended the CV-5 Reunion in 2006 in Albuquerque, NM, only twenty survivors were in attendance, along with family members and friends.

When Dad died in February of 2010 at the age of 89, I was asked to take his place as chaplain. Nine WWII survivors plus family members and friends attended the 2010 Reunion in Little Rock, AR. Five years later at the funeral, Vic left this life at 94 years of age. It’s always sad to see a loved one depart.

But the end of life on earth is not the end of the story.

Victor and dad were Christians, and we know where they are: in heaven. Death for a Christian is a joyful kind of sorrow. Although we’re glad they no longer suffer, it still hurts to say goodbye. But when a Christian dies – or graduates – the goodbye is not final.

First Thessalonians 4:13-14 is the basis for our joy in sorrow. It says: “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 returns, God will bring back with Jesus all the Christians who have died. (NCV)” Therefore, death for the Christian is only a temporary parting.

Does everyone go to heaven? I wish everyone did. I’ve thought long and hard about it over the years, and I shudder to think what many folk are experiencing who died without submitting their lives to Jesus Christ. I fear for those who will yet reject Christ knowing that, after death, they will live throughout eternity in torment. Although God wants all people to be in heaven (John 3:16, 2 Peter 3:9), not all people go there.

But if you’re breathing, it’s not too late. As the man on the cross, adjacent to Jesus at Calvary, asked for forgiveness in his last hour of life and entered paradise, we also can repent and go to heaven.

The only way to heaven is to choose to live for Christ and obey Him while we are yet alive. Jesus died to redeem mankind. Defeating death, He returned to life and lives forever. He wants you to live forever with Him. In heaven you will never have to lock your doors again. You’ll never be afraid or be hurt again. There will be no more death. However, before Jesus returns, we get to heaven by going through the door called death.

What does that feel like to die? 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 did I get here?” My Precious wife told them, “After you fell asleep, your father picked you up and took you to your room.”

That’s 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 takes us to our new home. A Christian should never fear death. For the Christian, there can be joy in sorrow.

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 (2 Peter 3:9).

Victor and dad were shipmates and friends in this life, and they are continuing their friendship in heaven. Who knows: they may be visiting together right now. I’ll be in heaven sometime in the future, and I hope to see you there.

Does God Decree Everything That Happens?

This topic has been a major debate among theologians, and is based on a religious philosophy that predates Christianity by several hundred years. That belief, which had been picked up by a portion of the Church, wrongly teaches that God engineers and approves everything that happens – including theft, murder, and rape.

Some folk refer to that belief as Calvinism, but that is short-sighted because John Calvin got it from St. Augustine, but it doesn’t stop there. Here is a brief history lesson. Please understand that this is an ongoing debate among theologians, and it won’t end with this writing. But I will, nevertheless, shed some historical light on the subject.

Augustine’s mother (Monica) was a Christian, but Augustine immersed himself in immorality and pagan religions. One of the religious philosophies that he used to condone his lifestyle was belief in the goddesses called, in modern English, The Fates.

The Fates, or The Moirae, were supposedly goddesses who assigned to everyone at birth his or her personal destiny in every matter of life. 

The three main goddesses were: Klotho (spinner), who spins the thread of life for the person; Lakhesis (apportioner of lots), who measures the length of the thread; and Atropos (she who cannot be turned), who actually cuts the thread of life. At birth, the Fates supposedly predetermined the entire life of the individual. That included everything the person thought, did, said, what happened to him, what was done to him, or what was said about him. This concept gave Augustine the freedom to live a debauched lifestyle, because he figured the gods predestined him to live this way.

Augustine eventually returned to his Christian upbringing, but he created a Christianized version of the belief. Some call it fatalism. That is, we cannot change what has been predestined for us. And he misapplied Romans 8:29 to support him. It says, “For whom he [God] did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his son.” The emphasis was meant to be on foreknow, but Calvin put it on predestinate. Paul wasn’t talking about God choosing whom He will save. Instead, he is talking about God’s omniscience – the fact that God knows everything, including who will eventually ask the Lord to forgive him or her and allow them into the Kingdom of God.

However, according to Augustine, based on the Fates, some people have been predestined to go to hell no matter their lifestyle (good or bad), while others have been predestined to go to heaven – again, with either good or bad lifestyle. He believed our lifestyle and decisions about serving God do not change our fate or our destiny. God decided for us.

The Church carried that erroneous belief through the centuries and John Calvin picked it up. In the Reformation, Calvin broke with the Church but brought this concept with him. Developing his theology, Calvin produced an acronym called TULIP, and you can look it up on the internet.

Calvin formalized his doctrine and wrote The Institutes of the Cristian Religion. His view of predestination is in book 3 chapter 21 titled, “Of The Eternal Election, By Which God Has Predestinated Some To Salvation, And Others To Destruction.” Some call this hyper-Calvinism. It is not Biblical because there are many verses in the Bible that prove God wants everyone to turn from a life of sin. God wants everyone to live a good life and go to heaven.

In attempting to prove God’s ultimate and total sovereignty (which is Biblical), Calvin taught that God planned for Lucifer in heaven to rebel (which is anti-Biblical). The concept goes against Scripture and against the nature of God. Scripture emphasizes over and again that God is love, and loves all mankind. That’s why Jesus came to earth to rescue us from destruction.

Believing that nothing happens unless God specifically ordains it impugns God’s integrity. Here are several examples.

In Genesis 3, God told Adam NOT to partake of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. But Adam disobeyed. Therefore, Calvin taught that God both planned and ordained the disobedience. That would make God flaky, capricious, the and unstable; therefore, untrustworthy.

God planning and approving every single thing that ever could happen in the world, as Augustine picked up from Grecian mythology and Calvin taught, would mean that God plans and approves the abduction of little children. It also means that God plans and approves of the people who rape and brutally murder the children. It means that God makes sure that it happens. Where is the love of God in this evil work?

God planning and approving everything that happens in the world means God is the author, instigator, and approver of all the heinous evil and brutality the world has ever experienced. And this is supposedly all for the glory of God.

PICT0217Friends, that is not the God of the Bible.

God is omniscient, so He KNOWS what will happen. But knowing it and making it happen are two entirely different concepts. And we must never forget: God is Love.

Think about this. The first commandment states, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” But many in the world do worship other gods. So is God contradicting Himself by making people worship false gods? No. We must understand the disobedient nature of man and the immutable (unchangeable) nature of Almighty God.

Is God still sovereign when evil people behead others? Of course He is, but God doesn’t ordain murder. The sixth Commandment says, “Thou shalt not commit murder.”

God is sovereign and His ultimate plan will be accomplished in spite of evil humanity who disobeys Him. But the question is: will we participate in God’s plan, or will God need to set us aside for disobeying Him?

God did not create robots to mechanically perform His every wish. That would never bring glory to God. Instead, God created both angels and humans with the ability to choose to obey and worship Him. Obedience glorifies God.

According to Scripture, our rejection of God determines our eternal punishment, but our acceptance determines our eternal rewards. (John 3:16, 2 Peter 3:9)

A Life Saved

I don’t know the best way to describe this man, but his life was a mess. I’ll call him Joe. He was recently fired from his job, and his wife filed for a divorce with a corresponding restraining order. His children – one was nine years old and the other fifteen – were afraid of him. Simply put, he was an alcoholic and was abusive to his wife and kids.

Joe started drinking alcohol in elementary school by sneaking it when his parents were away from home. Oh, the family went to church and put on a good façade for the community; and most folk thought they were a fine family. Very few people knew the mental and spiritual torment the family was experiencing.

Because they had their own problems, Joe’s parents didn’t learn of his alcohol problem until Joe left home. After Joe’s parents’ messy divorce, his father committed suicide.

As Joe entered adulthood, he prided himself in being able to drink on the job, yet effectively perform his vocational responsibilities. As with so many alcoholics, he thought he was hiding the problem; but his friends, vocational associates, and family were covering for him.

Let me say here: “protecting” the alcoholic is the worst thing anyone can do for him or her: it prevents potential recovery. We shouldn’t condemn the alcoholic, but don’t cover for them.

Joe’s life went from bad to worse. I won’t go into the details, but the police department began building a file on him. Then Joe remembered his dad. Swearing early in life never to be like his father, Joe had, in reality, become just like him. Now, thinking there was nothing left in life for him, Joe found himself considering the same final action: suicide.

He stole a pistol and ammunition, robbed a liquor store (took whiskey and money), and went to a motel in a run-down part of town. Sitting on the edge of the bed with loaded weapon in hand, he thought maybe he should write a note to explain to whoever found him why he did it. Opening the top drawer in the nightstand to get a pen and paper, he became angry when he realized that the cheap motel wouldn’t even provide writing material. But he did see a book in the drawer.

Curiosity prompted him to look into the book before killing himself, so he picked it up to see what it was about. The title on the cover said, “Holy Bible”, and there was a round logo on the bottom with the words, “Placed by The Gideons.”

“Who are they?” Joe wondered as he opened the Bible. It seemed to fall open to the Gospel of John, and Joe began reading something he had never read before: “In the beginning was the Word; the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Joe wondered who the Word was, so he kept reading. Verse fourteen started with, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us….”

This was all new to Joe. Having nothing to lose, he decided to read a lot more before ending his miserable existence. By the time Joe had finished reading the Gospel of John, it was getting light outside and tears were running down his face. Something was happening inside of him. He blurted out, “Do you love me, Jesus?” No Answer.

Hiding the firearm, Joe called a local church. “There’s probably no one there to answer my questions” he muttered to himself. But amazingly, the pastor answered the phone. After listening for several minutes, the pastor invited Joe to breakfast. Time with the pastor lasted through lunch and into dinner. Joe finally met someone who could answer many of the questions he had asked for most of his life.

Because of that Gideon Bible, Joe reached out for help.

At thirty-eight years of age, Joe was introduced to Jesus Christ and Joe’s torment was over. Don’t misunderstand: he still had many issues to face and reconcile; but the pastor promised to walk with him every step of the way if Joe would give him the gun and whisky, and permit him to call the police. Joe did, and his healing began.

God’s word in that Bible, backed up by someone who cared, saved Joe’s life. This is only one of many thousands of real-life examples of how the Lord saves and changes lives.

If you are facing frustration, misery, and confusion, don’t end your life. Instead, start a new life with the One Who loves you and died for you. Turn to Jesus. He might not solve all your problems, but He can guide you and help you do what’s necessary to solve them. And find a Christ-honoring friend who can lead you in the right direction.

Your future doesn’t need to look bleak – it can look bright.

A Sword for the Lord, and for Gideon

What’s your favorite Bible story? Daniel dropping in to visit the Lions? Noah surfing the grandest of all tsunamis? David creating a giant headache? They are all-time favorites for most of the church, but have you considered the story of Gideon?

This story, found in chapters six through eight in the book of Judges, is the foundation for one of the great ministries in modern times.

While in Los Alamos, NM, I was invited to a dinner hosted by the local Gideon camp. Meeting at the Morning Glory Bakery, President John Elder, Randy Rowan, Charles Knoop, Kevin Albright and others were in attendance. I have known of the Gideons most of my life, and have known these men for several decades.

When I returned to Siloam Springs, Paul Kimball surprised Carol and me by inviting us to a Gideon camp dinner at the John Brown University. There were about fifty attending, including Marshall Orcutt, Paul Kimball, and Milton Lundberg.

The Gideon’s devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ, and their love and concern for people is unsurpassed. But why do they call themselves Gideons?

I can’t tell the whole story here, but look at several data points. The Angel of the Lord chose Gideon to do an impossible job. When Gideon destroyed the village idol as a result of the angelic visit, the townsfolk wanted to kill him. I laugh when reading what Joash, Gideon’s dad, said, “If Baal is a god, let him fight for himself. It’s his altar that has been pulled down.”

The Lord gave Gideon a fool-proof battle plan; and because Gideon obeyed, 300 men overcame more than 135,000 of the enemy. A few is an overwhelming majority if God is in it. Remember this: God is not impressed with our ability; God is not depressed with our inability; But God is blessed with our availability.

In 1899 three men – Samuel Hill, John Nicholson, and William Knight – banded together and formed an association. They decided to call themselves “Gideons”. They met for several years. The group grew, and they felt impressed to distribute Bibles. Then in 1908, Pastor E. R. Burkhalter, First Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Kentucky suggested in a Ministerial Union meeting that “Gideon Bibles be placed in all local hotels and that the Union be responsible for the funds.”

Quoting Paul Kimball, “The Gideons International serves as a missionary arm of the local church, distributing over 1,000,000 copies of Bibles and Life Books every 5 days. Every Scripture distributed is funded by contributions from churches and individuals, and from the Gideon Bible Card Program. 100% of these contributions go for the purchase and placement of Scriptures (Gideon dues cover overhead). Millions of people around the world have no access to Scriptures, but with the support of generous contributors, Gideons ensure that many of them have a copy of God’s Word for their very own.”

Randy Rowan said, “Many of the public high schools in the USA no longer allow the Gideons to come on campus and distribute scriptures; so the Life Book program was developed so Christian students can share the gospel with their peers. The Life Book is a gospel of John that has handwritten comments and questions in the margins that reflect the perspectives of four high school students (male and female of different ages) and one adult. In the back of the Life Book is a gospel presentation in the form of a series of questions followed by a section on problems commonly faced by teenagers, along with scriptural advice on how to address those problems. Any pastor or youth pastor may order up to 1,000 of these Life Books free of charge at www.thelifebook.com.”

In 1908, The Gideons International placed the first Bible in a hotel room in Montana. Today, as of August of 2019, Gideons are organized in 200 countries around the world. Bibles and New Testaments are distributed by The Gideons International in 107 languages, and more than 2.3 billion Bibles and New Testaments have been placed through the Gideon ministry.

The Gideons are a few people doing an almost impossible task – attempting to distribute Scriptures to the entire world. The devil’s forces fight them but God gave them an excellent battle-plan. I encourage you, both reader and church, to support them financially. The Gideons pay the overhead themselves, so every dollar you give buys Scriptures – and saves lives.

May the Lord bless you as you support the Gideons International organization.

Gnosticism

The Bible says Jesus was tempted in every way humans are tempted. But Jesus couldn’t have been tempted if he was God (James 1:12-14). Doesn’t Jesus’ temptation prove that he was merely human?

I’ve been asked that question several times through the years, and it reflects on Gnosticism. So, let’s address the general concept of Gnosticism. Many of the gnostic philosophies can be summed in this (over-simplified) statement: Salvation is attained by gnosis – knowledge; Jesus’ death wasn’t necessary, and may not have even taken place; He may not have been God, or he may not have had a physical body.

The controversies continue. Everything that can be questioned about the God-man Jesus Christ has been questioned. The simultaneous natures of deity and humanity united in the person of Jesus Christ have been debated, argued, and killed over throughout church history. Let’s look into it.

The Bible says: 1) Jesus was tempted. 2) Jesus is God. And 3) God cannot be tempted. However, Matthew 22:29 applies here which says, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures….” Also II Timothy 2:15: “Study (Scripture) to show yourself approved (honorable, faithful) to God; a workman (student) who properly divides (discerns and understands) the word of truth.”

Here are a few Gnostic heresies that date back to Jesus’ time.

  • The Ebionites and Arians denied the deity of Christ.
  • The Docetists denied the reality of His physical body, stating He was merely a spirit or an emanation from God.
  • The Apollinarians claimed Jesus had a human body and the spirit of God, but not a human spirit.
  • The Unitarians said He was adopted as (or became) deity only at His baptism.
  • Some said He was the first man, Adam or the archangel, Gabriel.
  • Some say that our creator-god is actually Lucifer.
  • Others claimed that Jesus was God before conception and after His resurrection, but not for His approximate 33 years on earth.

Talk about confusion! Yet they all pride themselves on having GNOSIS — knowledge. How can all those conflicting teachings be called gnosis, or knowledge? It doesn’t make any sense!

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The uniqueness – and controversy – of Christianity is the Person of Jesus Christ: He is the Divine human being. Matthew 4:1-10, Hebrews 2:17-18, and other Scripture, verify that Jesus was tempted in His humanity; yet John 1:1-3 and other Scripture verify that He is God. This is not a conflicting doctrine blindly imposed on us to accept without question; rather, it is a sobering conclusion founded on strong evidence. This can be difficult to understand, for there is no other God-man in history with whom to compare.

However, back to the question: James 1:13 (“…God cannot be tempted ….”) is not talking about Jesus. The concept of Messiah is not in this specific text. Rather, James was referring to a then-current error making the rounds that justified immorality, which was: “God tempted me.” Remember, the Gnostics believed that our creator-god was evil. James was refuting that heresy while giving general encouragement to the church to live righteously. And He differentiated between Father Yahweh and Jesus the Messiah by referring specifically to Father Yahweh (verse 17: “Every good gift…comes down from the Father….”).

Jesus was and is God: John 1:1 (NLT) “In the beginning, the Word already existed. He was with God, and He was God.” Verse 14 lets us know that “the Word” here is Jesus. Jesus in His humanity was tempted in every manner as man can be tempted (Hebrews 4:15); where Father YHVH was never human, therefore, cannot be, nor has ever been, tempted. He is “un-temptable”. And our Creator God is a Good and Loving God; but Lucifer’s final destination is what the Bible calls the lake of fire. 

Much of the New Testament was written to combat the various heresies of Gnosticism; or, as the Apostle Paul said, to combat “a different gospel.” Anything that teaches differently from or in conflict with the message of salvation and Jesus Christ as found in the Bible is a different gospel – which is a different way to attempt to gain salvation; a different way to try to go to heaven.  But it can’t be done. It’s teaching a different understanding of Jesus Christ, or a teaching about a different Jesus altogether such as the cosmic christ

Salvation and eternal life are gained only through the knowledge of and the acceptance of our Lord Jesus Christ. Read about Him. Study about Him. Get to know Him.