Trip to Palomar Mountain

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

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

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

Mount Palomar, August 2016

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

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

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

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

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

The Palomar Observatory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Observatory up close

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

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

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

Charter of the Christian Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I look forward to hearing from you.

Loving the Elderly

DSCN0410BMy 97-year-old mother was in and out of hospitals, and getting ready to meet the Lord face-to-face. The family was getting ready for another big change; and as is often the case, the family wasn’t able to address every detail. We needed assistance. (The picture of mother and me was taken when she was 95.)

Elsa Anderson was one of mother’s care-givers. She and I discussed our purpose in life for a while, and she said that God had given her 54 talents – that she knows of anyway. Caring for people near the end of life is a talent she cherishes the most. Elsa said, “I love being with these dear folks and sharing God’s love with them. But it isn’t always the elderly who get blessed: many times as I reach out to them, I receive the blessing.”

This reflects the attitude and gifting of a friend in New Mexico.

Rev. Thomas Kearns, chaplain at the Las Cruces Good Samaritan Retirement Community in New Mexico, said, “Many times you go to a hospital to minister to someone with the intent of praying for healing, for comfort for the patient and family, and also ready with scripture to share God’s word. But your ministry is, also, to be there – what I call ‘the ministry of presence’. Even if I don’t say a thing, my mere presence often provides emotional healing to the people.” I agree.

Elsa employs that concept. Her mere presence often provides a type of healing for the families. It’s obvious that she loves her patients, and – in this case – loved my mother.

The word “love” is used in many ways. You’ve heard it, I’m sure: I love my cat (dog, horse, turtle, whatever). I love my house. I love apple pie and ice cream. I love my country. What else? Oh yes: I love my wife and I love God. The meaning of love is based on context.

But when we think of loving our elderly relatives, friends, or citizens, we think of not just those who are infirm, disabled, or handicapped. We include those in their upper years who may not be able to fend for themselves in some ways.

The briefest description of loving or caring for the elderly comes from a book bytRIALB Wm. G. Justice titled “Training Guide for Visiting the Sick.” Mr. Justice, referring to all the elderly, whether sick or not, said, “The purpose is to oversee the care of those who are hospitalized, sick, shut in, or are in some way in need of care; and to assure they have their needs met to the best of our ability.”

Rev. Gary Kroah, retired minister living in Siloam Springs, agrees with Mr. Justice. At one point in a discussion, Gary said, “Just because they are elderly and cannot come to church, we cannot ignore them. They are still a vital part of church and of our community. It is our privilege to continue loving them. Jesus loves them, and we are effectively the hands, feet, and voice of Jesus to them.” I add a hearty amen.

But loving the elderly comes with a price, and we had to differentiate between mother’s best interests and our emotional needs. I definitely do not believe in euthanasia, and I won’t discuss my mother’s condition; but I will say this: at 97 years of age and the condition she was in, it would actually be a loving act to allow her to go home to be with Jesus. She will also be with her parents, my father, and one of my sisters … and multi-millions of others in heaven.

With her body trying to shut down, I believe it is neither loving nor merciful to use every modern technological means that’s available to keep her body alive. Rather, it is loving to let her know how much we love her, but that we also release her to “go home” to be with Jesus.

Does it hurt us to do that? Yes, it does; and we knew we would miss her. But is it loving her? Yes, it is; for where she was bedridden, could not communicate, and her body trying to shut down with several terminal maladies, she would be well, healed, strong, and vibrant in heaven.

1 Thessalonians 4:14 says, “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” (NLT).

Mom experienced her final graduation on November 11, 2016; but we’ll see mom again when it’s our turn to graduate.

On the Beach

Boeing 747-400“Okay – we’ve taken Sharon and Jim to the airport. What would you like to do next?” (The year was 2016.)

“What do I want to do next?” Carol responded. “It’s 5:45 in the morning. The only thing to do now is have breakfast.” She was right – as usual.

We wound our way out of Lindberg Field (the San Diego airport) without getting lost. Turning onto the Pacific Coast Highway in the dark, we headed north but missed the entry onto I-8 which would take us east up Mission Valley; but a quick u-turn took care of it. (Don’t worry: our’s was the only car on the street.)

Finally sitting at the booth in Denny’s – with Coffee! – we planned our day.

We attended the early church service where David Jeremiah is pastor. I heartily recommend visiting Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, California if you have a chance. His mailing address is listed as San Diego, but the church is on the east side of El Cajon – pronounced El Cahone.

Afterwards, we headed west on I-8, north on highway 67, then west on highway 52 which took us to the town of La Jolla (La Hoya) on the coast. We decided to drive north on beautiful Scenic Highway 101 up to Oceanside.

Friends, pay attention: It’s a beautiful drive, and we enjoyed it. But if you are in a hurry, don’t do that. Highway 101 meanders through all the towns, and you can make more time on I-5 – unless it’s slow-hour. I think most folk call it “rush-hour” but believe me: there is no such thing as rushing down the freeways if they are jammed with cars. I call it slow-hour.

In the town of Carlsbad at 1:15 pm, we began looking for a place to eat and a nice place to stay. (We celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary all year long.) Turning onto a side street, we found Ocean Street that looked more like an ally; but we turned north on it hoping to find our way back to 101. The street was separated from the Pacific Ocean by one row of buildings, so Ocean Street is a good name for that road.

Before turning east on Christiansen Way to return to Highway 101, Carol spotted a place called Beach Terrace Inn. “I wonder how much they charge for a night’s stay.” Translated into a man’s language, it actually means, “Find out how much it costs to stay here.” Yes, Ma’am.

THAT was a good idea!

Beach Terrace Inn, the only oceanfront hotel between Oceanside and La Jolla, was built in three stages. The first edifice was built on the beach (on the sand) and was constructed around 1960. The second stage, which includes the current lobby, was built in 1976. And the third stage, which includes breakfast – and coffee – was built in 1988.

Ryan Roark, the assistant manager, greeted me. I know there are many friendly folk up-and-down the coast and throughout the country, but Ryan is one of the best. He personally walked to my car, helped carry in our luggage, and showed us where to eat. Sure, he wants our business, but that is the first time a hotel manager ever helped me with the heavy work. As we walked, Ryan said, “Those who stay here are not guests – they are family. So you are now part of the Beach Terrace Inn Family.” Thank you, Brother Ryan.

Thomas Burke, the Guest Service Ace, stopped for ten minutes and filled us in on a lot of the history of the place. He even brought extra coffee to our room. Thank you, Thomas. These folks really know how to make people feel welcome and important – like family.

In the evening, we walked down the steps to the beach and I swam in the surf. After tiring myself out, Carol and I walked the beach looking for sand dollars.

The Inn’s advertisement (http://beachterraceinn.com/) says, “We believe size matters, so we’ve chosen to be a small hotel with big rooms rather than a big hotel with small rooms.  We’ve remained owned by the same family since the 1960’s. We believe in personality and choose to be remarkable rather than flashy.” Carol and I found that to be true.

If you find yourself in Southern California, go to Carlsbad and visit the Beach Terrace Inn on Ocean Street. You’ll be glad you did. Tell them Gene and Carol Linzey sent you.

Now, where’s the coffee?

Chance vs Divine Providence

Charles sent me an e-mail and said, “I would really like to read your take on Chance (or Luck) vs Divine Providence.”

To answer this will involve condensing five books into 809 words. Thank you, Charles, for the request.

First, let’s understand “chance.” It deals with opportunity, accidents, random occurrences, possibilities – all without design or control by anyone. For example, I flipped a quarter in the air twenty times and let it land on the floor. I started each flip with George Washington’s head facing up. It landed heads up eight times and tails up twelve times. I ran the same experiment again, but this time I started it with the Eagle facing up. It landed heads up nine times and tails up eleven times. That’s interesting, but still, chance.

We would shift to Divine Providence now, except luck was mentioned. This goes into religion – but not Christianity.

Luck is another name for the Greek goddess Tyche; with Fortuna being Tyche’s Roman counterpart. We get the concept of good or bad fortune from the goddess Fortuna. Tyche and Fortuna are primary goddesses to whom the Greeks and Romans prayed for material blessings.

Enter The Moirae, or the Faits. These three goddesses supposedly predetermined the entire life and destiny of everyone who will ever live. That included everything the person thought, said, did, and what happened to him or her. We now call it “fatalism.”

Saint Augustine, who initially rebelled against God and believed in the Faits, eventually created a Christianized version of fatalism. He said nothing could happen without God’s specific command, and that God had predestined our entire life for us. Let’s see about this. If the average heart-rate is 70 beats per minute, God would have to stand there and specifically order each person’s heart to beat 36,817,200 time a year. Multiply that by 7,500,000,000 people in the world!

No. God sets some things in order, and commands them to keep it up.

Augustine then 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.” But Paul put the emphasis on “foreknow”; not on “predestinate.” Paul wasn’t talking about God choosing whom He will save. Instead, Paul is talking about God’s fore-knowledge of who will choose to live for Christ.

Let’s bring in sovereignty: “supreme power; freedom from external control; autonomous.” Some national governments are sovereign.

Finally, we come to Divine Providence. And that truly is God’s position. The book of Job clarifies that no one tells God what to do. God, by Himself, decides what He will AND will not do.

Providence deals with: preparation, good governance, foresight, guidance, prudent management. General Providence refers to God supporting the natural order of the universe. But Divine Providence refers to God specifically and intentionally interacting in the affairs of mankind. Therefore, we need to read carefully and understand what God said in Scripture.

James 4:2-3 says, “And yet the reason you don’t have what you want is that you don’t ask God for it. And even when you do ask, you don’t get it because your whole motive is wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. (GNT)” This 2-fold Scripture alone informs us that God requires our interaction: 1) we need to ask of God, and 2) we need to have the right attitude.

Let’s add Psalm 37:23. “The steps of the godly are directed by the Lord. He delights in every detail of their lives.” God takes pleasure in interacting with and caring for His people.

Although God sees the sparrow as it falls to the ground (Matthew 10:29), He does not mandate its death. Two of my sisters had houses that burned down several years ago, but they were not hurt. My dad died of cancer at age 89. My mother died at age 97. Another sister died of cancer at age 50. People get hurt out of carelessness. My lawn mower quit today. And sickness and death are still part of the human experience (Romans 5:14).

Does God purposely engineer all that? No; all that happens because we are part of the human family. The Bible says that death will be the LAST enemy to be conquered (1 Corinthians 15:26), so we can expect the other maladies and difficulties to continue for a while.

God does decree some of what happens in human history, but does not control or mandate every human decision. Instead, God leaves personal decisions up to us (Romans 6:12-13). Nevertheless, God does respond to prayer and can use all things that happen to us for our good (Romans 8:28).

In all that happens to us, God monitors our reactions. It is our reactions and attitudes that shape us, and prepare us for our interaction with God in heaven.

Fort Sumter

Dad was a chaplain in the US Navy and we moved around somewhat. So in my four years of high school, I attended four different schools: two in Southern California, the third near Boston, and I graduated in Charleston, South Carolina in 1964.

In April of 2016, the USS Yorktown, CV-5 Survivor’s Reunion was held in Charleston, and I was chaplain for the group. One day, Carol and I drove over to James Island to locate the house my parents rented and the high school I attended. This was the first time I had returned to the Charleston area since May of 1964, but I located both house and school without a hitch. They hadn’t moved.

Memories flooded my mind, and I verbally relived many of them while Carol listened. (I met Carol in Southern California in late August of 1964.) When my parents lived in the Charleston area, we didn’t visit Fort Sumter which is situated in Charleston Bay. Perhaps that was because renovations, beginning in 1961, had not been completed. But now I was looking forward to visiting the fort.

Fort Sumter was named after General Thomas Sumter – a hero in the Revolutionary War. Built primarily by slave labor, construction of the fort was started in 1829 but was still incomplete in 1861 when the War Between the States began.

There are several names for that war, and each name reflects the feelings of various groups through history. A well-accepted name is The War Between the States. Many northern folk called it The War of the Rebellion, while many Southerners called it The War of Northern Aggression. Some Europeans called it The War of Secession, but the common name here in modern America is the American Civil War. But as Colonel Butch Quick said, “There was nothing civil about it!” Well over 625,000 Americans died in that hellish conflict.

Many believe that the war was not primarily about slavery. As an example: South Carolina’s General James Longstreet is quoted as saying, “We should have freed the slaves, THEN fired on Fort Sumter.”

Understanding that South Carolina was thinking about seceding from the brand-new Union as early as 1827, Fort Sumter was not built to keep South Carolina in line; the fort was one of a series of fortresses built along our eastern coastline to protect our major ports from potential European aggression.

Our tour boat backed away from the wharf and sailed around the bow of the USS Yorktown, CV-10, that was docked nearby. The Yorktown (built to replace the USS Yorktown, CV-5 that sunk in the Battle of Midway in June of 1942) was commissioned in 1943 and is huge; but with its flight deck looming 50 feet above our heads, it looked enormous.

A twenty-minute cruise toward the Atlantic Ocean, Fort Sumter looked small with walls currently about 15 feet high. However, seventy thousand tons of New England granite had originally been imported to build the 5-sided Fort Sumter on the harbor sandbar; and the walls in 1861 were 5 feet thick and 50 feet high. It was designed to house 650 men with 135 canons.

South Carolina had officially withdrawn from the fledgling United States of America, and Confederate Brigadier General Beauregard ordered Union Major Robert Anderson to surrender Fort Sumter. When Anderson refused, the Confederate forces began firing on April 12, 1861.

The fort was built to withstand a naval assault using small, ship-mounted guns, but it could not long endure the massive bombardment from the shore-based gun batteries. Even though there were no casualties during the 36-hour bombardment, Major Anderson finally realized that the situation was hopeless.

Therefore, to save the lives of his men, Major Anderson raised a white flag. Deciding not to capture the Union forces, General Beauregard provided a boat and personnel to take the Union soldiers to a Union ship waiting off shore. Note: two years later in the heat of the war, on September 8, 1863, Union naval forces, using larger guns, attempted to regain control, but failed. Again, the fort was severely damaged.

Ninety-eight years later, South Carolina and the US Government agreed to restore Fort Sumter and make it a National Monument with a Visitor Education Center. This was being completed as I graduated from high school just across the harbor on James Island.

Fifty-two years later, I returned with Carol and the USS Yorktown CV-5 Survivor’s group, and finally had the privilege of touring the fort. I was impressed with the history and the restoration. If you have the opportunity, I would encourage you to visit Fort Sumter.

History Ignored is Freedom Lost

Have you ever watched a movie (or DVD) several times and wanted to see it again? My Precious Carol and I watched a film this past week called, “Monumental: In Search of America’s National Treasure,” staring Kirk Cameron. This was the second time I watched it, and I’ll watch it again. If you haven’t seen it, you should. It’s a 90-minute film about America’s beginning.

Because much of our national heritage is not taught in schools, a major portion of our population is ignorant of our history. This film supplies some of the details.

Psalms 78:5-7 says, “The Lord made an agreement with Jacob and gave the teachings to Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach to their children. Then their children would know them, even their children not yet born. And they would tell their children. So they would all trust God and would not forget what he had done but would obey his commands.”

I agree with that.

We start with the concept of monuments which are reminders of historical events. God told the Israelites to build monuments about what they accomplished, and about what the Lord did for them. Then they were to use those monuments as tools to teach their children about their past. My own father taught me the importance of history, and said, “If you don’t know where you’ve been, it’s hard to tell where you’re going.” How true.

Kirk Cameron wanted to know what principles the early settlers – Pilgrims – established that the Founding Fathers followed to make the United States of America the most successful example of civil, economic, and religious liberty ever developed in the history of the world.

But America became a moral quagmire because we, as a nation, slowly stopped teaching about God and the truth of our history. We also voted people into office who rejected truth – both Scriptural and historical. And now, since we don’t know where we’ve been, we are on the wrong track. Let me give you several historical facts that are hard to find in schools today.

The Pilgrims left Europe because the Church WAS the State, and the state was persecuting them. Therefore, they established a separation between Church and State. But they didn’t want a godless society; instead, they wanted God-fearing men to run the government, and to guarantee everyone the freedom to worship according to conscience.

I won’t hide the errors and flaws in early American society, but I am telling you their intent.

The_Mayflower_Compact_1620_cph.3g07155The first governmental document in America was the Mayflower Compact. The Pilgrims established this document firmly on the principle that God should be the center of our public life. This guaranteed religious freedom.

The Pilgrims did not abuse the Native Americans. Others did, but the Pilgrims treated the “Indians” as equals.

Civil authority, law, justice, mercy, education, and equality were established firmly on Scripture. That created our foundation for liberty – both civil and religious.

Our early Congress highly approved of Christianity. On January 21, 1781, Robert Aitken asked the new Congress to authorize, and, if possible, even pay for the printing of the King James Version of the Bible in America. Congress wouldn’t fund the project, but here is the approval issued on September 10, 1782:

“Whereupon, Resolved, That the United States in Congress assembled, highly approve the pious and laudable undertaking of Mr. Aitken, as subservient to the interest of religion as well as an instance of the progress of arts in this country … we recommend this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the United States, and hereby authorise him to publish this recommendation in the manner he shall think proper.”

In 1783, George Washington wrote a letter commending Aitken for his Bible, known as the “Bible of the American Revolution”.

The founding fathers realized that a nation that is not based on faith in Holy Scripture and Almighty God, and that does not maintain a high moral integrity – both individually and corporately – will ultimately crumble. Therefore, our leaders kept God in our national conscience for a long time. Many WWII war bonds were issued “to preserve freedom of worship”. Our government printed WWII posters showing Hitler driving a sword through the Bible. A current problem is, many in our American Government today would do the same if we let them

We have hundreds of writings from founding fathers who professed faith in Almighty God. But many in our post-modern society want to deprive us of our national, Godly heritage. They don’t know that history ignored is freedom lost.

To maintain our freedoms, we must know our history and reestablish our faith in God.

Essentials of Christianity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review of The Prodigal Son

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

                          *******

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

Disillusioned with life, one day George, the younger boy, said, “Dad, I’ve thought it over and I want nothing to do with ranching. I want to live my own life without you telling me what to do. Even though you’re not dead, give me my half of the inheritance and I’ll get out of your life!”

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

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

Finally, rejected by all the friends his money had bought, he considered suicide. But he thought, Maybe dad will hire me to repair fences, or something. There’s enough to do on the ranch where I can stay out of his way.

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

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

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

But his father said, “Son, I’ve been waiting every day for these past three years for you to return. Everything I own is now your brother’s, but you are still my son. And as long as I am alive, my home is your home.”

When they pulled up to the big house, his mother, aunts and uncles, cousins, and neighborsDSCN0024B had a barbeque shin-dig ready; and a huge cake had been prepared that was decorated with “Welcome Home, George!”

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

But someone in the household called Jake on his cell phone and told him that George had returned. Jake blew up!

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

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

                           *******

You’ve been told that the story was about George who wasted half the family fortune. But George’s narrative is only the background for the real story. The parable is not about George’s rebellion, repentance, and return; it’s about Jake’s pride and rejection. George repented, but Jake refused to forgive.

You see, Jesus told the parable to the Pharisees and Sadducees who considered themselves the elite of society and heirs to the kingdom of God. The proud religious leaders thought it would lower their prestige if they forgave and accepted these repentant traitors, winos, and prostitutes into their society and into their church meetings.

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

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

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

What is a Christian?

Some time ago, a young man asked me several questions about Christianity. Noting his confusion as we talked, I asked, “Do you know what a Christian is?” “Sure” he said. “It’s someone who goes to church; one who does good works. I know: It’s someone who loves his neighbor. Right?”

I said, “Well, all that is included in being a Christian, but there’s more to it.”

“Really? How about one who thinks positive thoughts and prays a lot?”

“No. Many non-Christians do that, too.”

“Well then, what about a person who teaches Bible studies? Or who preaches? Yeah, I know: how about being a missionary?”

“That doesn’t define a Christian, either.”

Mystified, he said, “I thought Christians did all that!”

“Yes, various Christians do all that, but so do many non-Christians. Some people preach and teach about the Bible out of a sense of duty. Many think of preaching as a vocation or think they are helping God by preaching. That’s how it was with John and Charles Wesley. They preached about Jesus for several years and led prayer meetings. They even started a Believer’s Club and were missionaries before they, themselves, accepted Christ into their lives.”

“Okay; I guess I don’t know. You tell me: what is a real Christian?”

“I’ll be glad to. They were first called Christians in Antioch. That’s a town in what we now call Turkey. Pagans used the word ‘Christian’ to mock the followers of Christ by accusing them of trying to imitate Jesus.”

“So, a Christian is someone who tries to act like Jesus?”

“Yes, but not in a phony or hypocritical way. Real Christians are truly learning to be like Jesus. The word Christian means of Christ or like Christ.”

“Oh, come on now – do you expect me to believe that? I mean, I consider myself a Christian but I don’t act like Jesus.”

Acknowledging his honesty, I read First John 3:2 to him; “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and we have not yet been shown what we will be in the future. But we know that when Christ comes again, we will be like him, because we will see him the way he really is.”

“All right then; how do I become like Jesus?” he asked.

“You can become like someone if you know him personally – or have studied him. I know my mom & dad because I spent time with them through the years, and got to know him very well. In the same way, you will get to know Jesus by reading and studying the Bible and praying. Joining a Bible study will help. Read the Gospel of John, chapters 5-10 and ask Jesus to show you how to live and think. You’ll need to ponder or contemplate what Romans 12:2 says: ‘Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.’ God won’t change your thinking for you, and you can’t do it without His help. It’s a team effort. And you should keep in mind that your actions are a result of your thinking.

“The reason so many Christians act like and talk like the distorted world is that they want to be accepted by their worldly friends. Because even many Christians don’t understand what Christianity really is, they put more importance on identification with and acceptance of people than on living for and honoring Jesus. That results in confused Christians and a weak church – even increases confusion in the non-Christian world.

“If a child grows up in the South, he’ll talk like a southerner. But if he grows up in the North, he’ll talk like a northerner because we act and sound like the people we spend time with. Therefore, identifying with people who live a lifestyle that does not honor Christ, trains us to reject Christ and Christianity, while avoiding those worldly lifestyles can give us time to learn to live a Godly life.

“Basically, a Christian is: One who has repented of sin, who has been forgiven by our Heavenly Father, who has decided to turn away from things that offend God, and who chooses to actively live for Him. These are only a few of the identification marks of a Christian, and it takes a person of high integrity to openly and publicly identify with Christ. Christians are not perfect, but they’re going in the right direction. Jesus publicly gave Himself as a sacrifice for us; are you willing to publicly proclaim that you will live for Jesus?”

The young man said, “You just taught me a lot. I want to think about it.”

Dear reader, will you think about it, too?