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?

The Salton Sea

As we were driving south along the Colorado River, Carol asked, “Did you know we won’t be far from the Salton Sea?”

“Are you kidding!” I exclaimed. “How far is it?”

“Driving west on I-10, if we turn south on Highway 86, it’s about 20 miles, or so.”

“I am a Californian. I grew up in El Cajon in San Diego County, and I’ve never been to the Salton Sea!” I exclaimed. “One time when I was in seventh grade, dad preached in Brawley near the Sea, and I knew it was over a hundred miles away. Back in the mid-1950s that was a long distance. None of us went with him because we were needed in our home church. But now I want to complete my California childhood and visit the Salton Sea. By the way, how far is the lake from San Diego?”

DSCN0333“If you get there by driving on the freeways through Riverside, it is about 182 miles; and if you go through the mountains through Julian, it is about 138 miles. But if you get there by helicopter, it is only about 70 miles.”

“Let’s go!” So we did – but not by helicopter.

Several thousand years ago (after the flood in Noah’s time) the lake was approximately 105 miles long and 300 feet deep. That lake had long-since dried up, as did the lake in Death Valley. The area is called the Salton Sink which is in a low area of the Salton Trough, and is often referred to as the Colorado Desert due to its proximity to the Colorado River. The lowest spot is 277 feet below sea level.

Throughout the centuries, the area has alternately been a shallow lake and dry desert plain. Heavy rains and snow runoff from the Sierra Nevada Mountains periodically flooded the Salton Sink, and one of the worst storms was in 1862 when the area was again submerged, creating a lake 60 miles long and 30 miles wide. That 1862 storm wreaked havoc in the entire western third of our country.

The present lake was formed in 1905 when engineers with the California Development Company were trying to increase water flow from the Colorado River into the valley for farming. But the powerful river overcame their barriers, gouged deep channels into the land, and poured into the Salton Sink basin for eighteen months. The engineers were finally able to stop the flow in 1907. Interestingly, the Salton Sea sits squarely on a portion of the San Andreas Fault.

We turned south on Highway 86. Carol took many pictures of palm tree groves, animals, low-flying military jets, and cloud formations. Looking south, we could see in the distance what looked like a rain squall forming, so we decided not to spend too much time at the lake.

The lake is currently about thirty-five miles long and fifteen miles wide. The surface is 228 feet below sea level, and the deepest part of the lake is about 49 feet deep. But this varies annually depending on rain and snow melt.

We were surprised at what we found. We saw many sand-covered streets and vacated houses with broken windows. We did see a few sandy residential areas with very small town centers, but the thriving resort and retirement communities I had read about years ago seemed to be non-existent. The lake had been receding in the past several decades but more rapidly during the recent California drought. The badly-receding shoreline was salt-encrusted, and badly deteriorated boats were rotting in the salty sand.

After stopping at four locations, I had seen enough. I wished I had seen the Salton Sea fifty-seven years earlier.

Then we saw what we thought was a rain squall. Wrong! It was full-blown sand-storm! We had a choice: either we could continue south forty miles in the midst of the length of the storm to Brawley, or drive across the storm for twelve miles. Either way, we would drive slowly for we couldn’t see very well more than 75 feet ahead of us. We chose the shorter hazard.

After ten minutes of a sandy blizzard, we were out of it; we could see blue skies, and the beautiful mountains ahead … all through a pitted windshield.

But that sand-storm reminded me of something else. If we patiently “weather the storms of life” without panicking, keeping our faith and trust in God, the Lord will bring us through to the “blue skies” on the other side; and we can see life more clearly. 

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.

Enjoying Time Together

It’s near the turn of the year again. Wow! Time sure seems to fly by. As Carol and I were playing Scrabble last night … before I go any further, do any of you play Scrabble? How about Yahtzee, Monopoly, Life, Pictionary, Dominoes, or Balderdash? Do any of you put puzzles together? Do you eat together as a family, or as a married couple? Or is it “each person is on his own”? Are you obsessed with getting ahead in life, fearful about the direction of the stock market, or worried about what’s going to happen in the Middle-east?

I suppose my basic question is: do you, as a family, spend time together anymore, or are you individually cocooned in your own little world, worried about life, or mesmerized with your video games, tweeting, texting, or whatever else is available these days?

Let me ask another question: if you died tonight, what would you be remembered for? Stop a minute and think about it. …….. What did you come up with? Be honest with yourself: no one is listening to your thoughts except God, but you can’t fool Him anyway. What would be your legacy?

I know men and women who left much monetary gain to their families, but that didn’t earn them any greater respect or love. I know some who were famous in the scientific and/or educational fields, but the families were distant from them. I know some who were ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but they, also, were rejected by their families.

WHY??

One reason might be hinted at by a question a reporter asked Billy Graham years ago: “Mr. Graham, if you had your life to do over, would you change anything?”

“Yes,” replied Billy Graham, “I would probably spend less time on the road and more time with my family.”

“Why is that, sir?”

Billy’s response was misunderstood by some, but hit home to my heart. He said, “The ministry will always be there, but my family won’t be.”

Did you hear it? That comes very close to what Jesus said. It was so important that it is recorded in Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7, and John 12:8. When Mary poured expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet, at least one of the disciples was upset at her for wasting it. Judas said that it could have been sold and the money given to the poor. But Jesus said, “You will always have the poor among you, but I will not be here with you much longer.” Jesus was not denigrating true ministry, but He did put an emphasis on Christ-honoring relationships.

So, back to my question: what will you be remembered for? Five months after your funeral, after the will or trust has been settled, what will the family members say about you?

This is why I’ve invested much time playing with our kids as they were growing up, and why my Precious Carol and I play Scrabble and other games with each other now in our upper years. We are still investing into each other’s lives.

Yes, I preach or teach as the doors open, and as you know by reading this blog, I write a lot. But life should not consist of merely learning, earning, and accumulating stuff. The most important thing is growing in our relationship with God, then manifesting our faith in Jesus Christ by how we live with and treat others.

Our children are all adults now, and we have 36 grandkids – at last count. But I still greatly enjoy spending time with and investing my life into my Precious Carol. And she invests her life into me.

Now, where was I? Oh yes. We were playing Scrabble.

Although we are competitive, we have fun while using the game for learning. Therefore, we use the dictionary to look up words. At times we show each other where the other might get more points. You see, we figure that no matter who wins on a particular evening, we both win because we love each other and enjoy spending time with each other. And using the dictionary is increasing our vocabulary which helps us as we interact with society. Using the dictionary also helps us as we grow older.

As of this writing, Carol and I are tied at 401 games. That means we’ve played 802 games, and that’s only since I’ve been keeping record.

This coming year, learn to enjoy spending time with your family – you don’t know when your time on earth will come to an end. When you die, will you wake up in Jesus home … or somewhere else? Think about it.

Let’s honor Jesus in all that we do because we want to spend eternity with Him.

Happy New Year, friends.

Peace in the Storm

Our daughter, Rebecca, called and said, “You need to hear this! You will laugh your socks off!” And she proceeded to relate the following scenario.

Adjacent to their driveway is a chain-link fence covered with vines. Birds annually build nests in the intertwining tendrils because they know they are safe in the leafy maze. Our granddaughters play all around the yard, including near the vines, but the birds know the girls are not a threat to the eggs and fledglings.

But there are historic menaces that lurk nearby – cats! So the parent birds are always diligently on the lookout for approaching prowlers to prevent them from invading the nest and having breakfast. Rebecca’s cat is named Lilly.

Lilly had eaten her Meow Mix breakfast, walked around the house, and sat down on the driveway near the fence. It was a warm sunny day with a light breeze, and Lilly was apparently enjoying life.

Suddenly, the parent bird came swooping out of the sky and feinted an attack on the seeming intruder! Lilly just sat there, didn’t budge or even flinch at the furious frenzied flyer, but continued gazing across the lawn.

After the scare tactics of pretending to dive bomb the cat didn’t produce the desired result, the bird flew up five or six feet then actually dive-bombed Lilly! After enduring the physical assaults several times, Lilly glanced over her shoulder, stood up and sauntered a few steps, then sat back down and steadfastly resumed her peaceful outlook on life. Lilly seemed to know that the three-ounce aviator wasn’t a real problem. I suppose the bird finally also realized that Lilly wasn’t a problem, and flew away.

After a minute or so when the cat stood up and ambled away, Rebecca said, “I have to call dad!” We shared a hearty laugh.

I told her that reminds me of Taffy – my 18-pound Maine Coon cat years ago – and the golden retrievers next door when we lived in New Mexico. Although separated by a five-foot chain-link fence, the retrievers wanted to kill Taffy and always “barked their heads off” every time they saw him.

One day I could hardly believe my eyes. I was harvesting beets from the garden when the pooches began barking – again. The fence began rattling and the barking became more agitated, so I looked up.

Taffy was walking directly toward them with eyes locked onto theirs. The retrievers were trying to push through the fence; the hair on their neck and back was standing straight up as they made all the noise their vocal chords could muster!

In the midst of the pandemonium, Taff walked directly toward the would-be killers to within two feet of the fence and made the customary 3-circle rotation. Amidst the cacophony, he then proceeded to lie down – and with head resting on paw, resumed looking directly at the barking dogs. The cat then very slowly opened his mouth and released one long disdaining HISS!

The dogs lost their minds! But Taff’s ears weren’t even laid back, for he was at peace in the midst of the storm.

Why didn’t Taffy and Lilly run for protection? How did Taff endure severe mental and audible abuse, and how did Lilly endure mental and physical abuse?

They both knew they were safe. That got me to thinking about the storms humans face.

A debilitating sickness and a diagnosis of a terminal disease are major storms. Loss of a job, a divorce, death of a close friend or family member, and personal rejection are storms.

Note: in order to keep our storms in perspective, remember that every day people around the world are being murdered because of their faith.

So, what storm are you facing right now?

Yes, these storms are real for the person in midst of them, but we don’t have to “lose our minds” or lose emotional stability. We also need to remember that we cannot face them alone. We need help. Friends and family are the primary human support system, but a deep, enduring faith in Jesus Christ and dependence on Him is our main support and protection.

We should not fear death, for it is the door to heaven for a Christian. And in the midst of the storm remember what Hebrews 13:5b says, “I [Jesus] will never leave you nor forsake you.” We need to trust Him. No matter the storm you are facing, you will not be overcome if you lock your eyes – your faith – onto Jesus Christ.

Living With Conviction

Did you read this report? “With conviction, the elderly pastor conned the former convict into surrendering after the ex-con attempted to con the pastor out his life savings. And with conviction the jury convicted the ex-con.”

Are you dizzy yet? When I read that news brief, it made my head spin. So, get a cup of coffee, and let’s look at the word Conviction. What does it mean?

It comes from Latin: convincere; which means: to conquer, to overcome decisively; to firmly persuade. Today the verb form is: to argue successively, persuade, convince or convict; and the noun is: conviction. So, a conviction is a firm belief that I hold on to. And many times, a conviction is not just an idea that I believe; it is often a value or set of values upon which I have based my life.

Therefore, convictions are the criteria by which I make important decisions, and are the foundation of my character. And when we act on convictions, society often changes.

Thomas was a man of convictions. He saw a problem. He felt a conviction in his heart and mind about it. He prayed about it. Then, facing derision and opposition, he decided to do something about it.

Born in Glastonbury, England in 1845, Thomas was a dentist, a minister in the Wesleyan Methodist Connexion (which became the Wesleyan Methodist Episcopal Church), and disapproved of both slavery and alcohol.

Already understanding the detrimental results of alcoholism on society, Thomas became concerned about the use of alcohol (the sacramental wine) in Holy Communion. He objected to the use of alcohol anyway, had a pastoral concern for recovering alcoholics, and wanted children to partake in the sacrament of communion. As a communion steward in the church, Thomas Bramwell decided he had to do something about it.

He read about Ephraim Wales from Concord, Massachusetts who had finally achieved his goal of “developing the perfect sweet and palatable grape.” Ephraim named the grape after his hometown, Concord. Thomas also knew about Louis Pasteur’s process of retarding the spoilage of milk, called pasteurization, and applied that process to the Concord grape to prevent the fermentation process. After developing his unfermented communion alternative, he eventually convinced his church and many others to use the unfermented wine.

So, there you have it. A centuries-long practice of using alcoholic wine in communion was overturned in some churches by a prohibitionist. Today entire denominations decry any use of alcohol in any form, including in Holy Communion.

But society also changed in other areas due to this man’s convictions. His full name is Thomas Bramwell Welch, and he – with his son, Charles – had developed Welch’s Grape Juice. This achievement not only gave us unfermented wine, but marked the beginning of the processed fruit juice industry.

Let me add a few other tidbits of Welch trivia. In 1913 Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan served Welch’s Grape Juice at a state diplomatic event instead of the traditional fermented wine. In 1914 the Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels, forbade wine on naval ships and [temporarily] substituted Welch’s Grape Juice.

In 1918 the Welch Company developed its first jam and called it Grapelade. The U.S. Army bought the first entire batch, and the G.I.s clamored for it when they returned to civilian life. In 1923 the world-famous Concord Grape Jelly was introduced, and as you see in this picture, it is still my all-time favorite jelly.

And in 1949, Welch became a pioneer in the frozen fruit juice industry by introducing Welch’s Frozen Grape Juice Concentrate. An added bonus is that in 2002, researchers reported the potential cancer-fighting benefit of the purple grape juice.

One man who had strong convictions changed society for the better. But a simple research can reveal thousands of others who, with conviction, changed our world: some for the better, and some for the worse.

How about you? Are you a person with convictions, or do you just float through life and let other people establish your political, religious, and personal ideology? Living with and acting on convictions will produce the foundation in life we need in order to determine our direction and set our goals in life. Living with convictions produce character and integrity.

Pray about it, and ask the Lord to help you establish and act on Godly convictions. You just might change the world.

Why Do You Argue?

Several years ago, a man walked up to me in front of a supermarket and asked, “Pastor Linzey, how many animals were on the Mayflower?”

I had no idea how many animals were on the hundred-foot long Mayflower, with one hundred and two passengers and a twenty-five to thirty-man crew.

Thinking it was a trick question, I said, “I don’t know, maybe a few dogs and….”

But before I could continue, he verbally exploded: “You are just as ignorant as the rest of those Christians – oh, I mean on Noah’s Ark. How many animals were on the ark?”

His attempt to embarrass me backfired. Maybe I should have ignored him and walked away. But I responded with, “The Bible doesn’t say how many animals were on the ark, but….”

Again, he cut me off. Hoping to malign my integrity, the young man blurted out, “I knew it! You are as ignorant as everyone else who says they are Christians! I have my doctorate and you Christians are ignorant!” He then victoriously stomped away. This young man was not inquiring for knowledge, insight, or help in any manner. Rather, he had an agenda to boost his own ego by publicly disparaging me in an argumentative manner.

I understood that young man’s problem, for in my ignorant youth, I enjoyed the same sport. I boosted my own ego by arguing with others in order to “prove” them wrong. It didn’t matter the subject – I knew how to wield words like swords, and I enjoyed verbal sparring. But as I grew older, and hopefully more mature, I learned the difference between argumentation and persuasion. I also realized how arrogant and foolish it is to argue with and degrade others. That’s when I asked the Lord to forgive me. I forgave that young man and prayed for him.

The immature form of arguing I am talking about is: to quarrel, squabble, bicker dispute, etc.; to exchange or express diverging or opposite views in a contrary, arrogant, heated, or angry manner. You win only by degrading your opponent.

But there’s a better way to communicate an opposing viewpoint: persuasion. That is: inducement, convincing, encouragement; causing people to want to believe something without offending them.

Words are powerful force: everybody uses them, but not always properly, constructively, and effectively. Another problem arises because many people don’t realize their “audience” has tuned them out. There is a saying in the military: “The myth of communication is that it has taken place.”

When is the last time you thought you clearly understood what was said, but learned later that you missed it? The problem is two-sided: the speaker and the hearer. Sometimes what I thought I said to Carol was not what I verbalized – my error. Other times she misunderstood what I did say – her error. Those interactions can generate interesting discussions. Successful communication depends on clear purposes, careful attention to the message, how it is conveyed, and a thorough awareness of the audience.

I’ve had the privilege of learning from people like Zig Ziglar, Stephen Covey, and John Maxwell. They are true leaders who teach us how to see beyond our own short-sightedness.

Covey encourages us to search for a “win-win” solution. By seeking the benefit of others, we mature in our own character. Ziglar teaches that when we enable others to succeed, we also are enabled to “reach the top.” Maxwell teaches that we reach greatness as we endeavor to help others succeed.

Jason Jones, with Strata Leadership, LLC, said, “You don’t have to be a celebrity to be persuasive. People want to be persuaded by, and follow someone who is confident and resolute in their thought, vision, and direction.”

Over the years, I learned that to persuade others – rather than argue with them – we need to keep several things in mind. We need to know what we are talking about, look people in the eyes as we speak, smile, speak clearly and confidently but not forcefully, engage the other person in discussion, purposefully listen when they speak, find things in common to talk about, and use our body language to support what we say. To really understand, we need to “listen” with our eyes as well as with our ears.

One who knows how to persuade others is a powerful person, and Christ-centered persuasive people manifest that power with confidence baptized in true humility.

Contagious Thinking

The flu is contagious. The measles, mumps, and smallpox are contagious. A large number of diseases are contagious and people are scared. Many are afraid of going shopping, going to the dentist, even afraid of going to the hospital because – well, let’s face it: that’s where folk with contagious diseases go.

Some folk are afraid of having their children vaccinated, and others are afraid of NOT having them vaccinated – both for very good reasons. And we find dispensers of hand-wipes almost everywhere to help stop the spread of the invisible, evil horde.

We go to great lengths to warn people of the latest epidemic. We talk about it on television, radio, and on all the social media. We even warn people about what MIGHT be coming around the bend, even though sometimes it doesn’t happen.

That reminds me of the counselor who told his worried patient, “90% of all the things you worry about never happen.” To which the patient replied, “Good! Now, what can I do to eliminate the other 10%?”

We need to be alert to all kinds of dangers that are lurking out there, and we need to help others because we are our brother’s keeper. But viruses and bugs are not the only disease we catch out in the public. Often the more pervasive problem is our attitudes, and they are easier to catch than the flu.

Attitudes and emotions are contagious.

I remember being in a planning meeting at a science lab, and we had a difficult obstacle to overcome. We were in a deep discussion on how to solve the problem, but the key individual, Matt, was missing due to a scheduling conflict. Each time an idea was presented, one dour experienced member of the team explained why it wouldn’t work. After about forty-five minutes, the entire team was feeling dismal because of the failure syndrome that pervaded the room. The team mindset had been poisoned because it “caught” this man’s negative attitude.

But Matt finally arrived and asked for an update. After he heard each rejected proposal, he laughed and said, “Well, I’m glad I finally got here. You have in your hands the answer to the problem.” He then happily explained how two of the proposals would work. When the dour man spoke up, Matt explained how his rebuttals didn’t apply to this situation.

This man had not been contaminated with the prevailing negative attitude, and that freed his God-given creativity to recognize the value of the ideas that had been presented.

We don’t need to be caught as creatures of our negative culture. Rather, with a positive attitude we should create an atmosphere in which others can be set free to rise to their God-given potential.

A complainer can destroy the company’s vision and torpedo the goal. Negative attitudes can undermine the morale of the team and hide or destroy the available talent and creativity. Negative emotions are destroyers of progress.

But positive attitudes and emotions are just as contagious. We don’t have to be a Pollyanna to cheer up the room, and we don’t have to have an ever-ready smile to make people happy. But we can ask the Lord to help us see past our problems and see things from God’s perspective. We create our immediate environment by what we believe, how we think, and how we act.

We have a choice as to whether we will inflict emotional and spiritual damage, or bring emotional and spiritual healing to others.

What we believe affects how we think. How we think affects how we act. How we act affects what we accomplish. It also affects how others around us think.

I believe God wants us to represent Him as much as we know how. Some years ago, my friend, Terry Langham, and I were operations officers in a scientific laboratory. The scientists and workers there thought the atmosphere was “all business.” But it felt to us somewhat gloomy. After praying about it, but without telling anyone else, we decided to change our culture.

Our phone calls and e-mails started with “Good morning.” In the calls and e-mails, we often asked what we could do for them. We stopped by people’s offices periodically to assure that we were effectively communicating with them.

After several years, the division leader told us, “You’ve changed our atmosphere. The entire division is a kinder and more cheerful place to work. Thank you.”

Our thinking and attitudes are definitely contagious. How are you affecting your community?