The Plestiodon

What do you think a plestiodon is? It sounds like it might be a giant dinosaur, and perhaps it’s the topic of the latest archeological find hidden deep in central Africa. Or maybe this giant skeleton was uncovered in a dinosaur graveyard in the hills of Morrison, Cripple Creek, or Cañon City – all in Colorado.

But, you don’t know what a plestiodon is? Neither did I until I looked it up.

It’s not a giant lizard or a dinosaur, and it’s not the focal point of archeology. It’s a little lizard with a bright blue tail. They are also called skinks, which derives from “Scinc” in the Scincidae family.

I saw this lizard one hot summer day when it crawled into the garage to cool off. The problem developed when it crawled onto one of the glue traps I use to reduce the spider, cricket, and beetle populations of the world.

I placed a few drops of WD-40® around its entrapped form. Then, using a twig, I gently lifted its body to allow the oil to dissolve the glue under it, and in a few minutes it was free. But its bright blue tail didn’t make it, and was left wiggling on the glue trap. I placed the reptile in the grass beside the garage. But before it waddled away, it turned and, not moving, looked directly at me for almost a minute. Maybe it was thanking me for saving its life? I don’t know … maybe.

When God designed this critter, He gave it a bright blue tail which can be released in danger. The blue attracts predators; and when they grab it for breakfast, the lizard sheds it and runs for cover. When the tail grows back, it is shorter, and is usually the same color as the rest of the body – but sometimes pink.

08-19-14bThis episode in the garage reminded me of another reptilian visit in New Mexico back in 1993. When it tried to hide, it reminded me that many people think they can hide from God, and I wrote a poem about it.

THE LIZARD

A young lizard came into my shop today;

Left to himself, I thought he’d go away.

But he just stood there looking at me,

Hoping beyond hope that him, I wouldn’t see.

 

Earlier that day it had been quite warm,

And to open the door would be the norm.

Then the rain began, and I love the sound.

It was then I saw my friend on the ground.

 

I looked in my shop, but no food was in sight

To give to my friend. But I understood his plight:

It was storming outside and he had discovered

A place of refuge. He knew he’d be covered.

 

I tried to catch him and take him outside,

But he was too smart and from me he did hide.

“You can’t catch me – you can’t reach under there!”

It was then that I heard my unspoken prayer.

 

“Lord, am I attempting to hide from You?”

And of course, He answered as if on cue:

“My kids seem to think since they can’t see Me

That I can’t see them; and think they are free.

 

“I want you to know that I see you today –

At work, at home, at church, and at play.

Go tell My Church that I see them, too.

But oh, how I desire to be in their view!

 

“If they keep withdrawing themselves from Me,

Whatever they think, they’ll never be free.

Like the lizard, if they don’t want to die,

They must trust in Me; and escape, not to try.”

 

I searched again to find my small friend.

Then I saw him – heading around the bend!

Using wisdom and stealth, I aimed him outside

Using my right foot as a peculiar guide.

 

“Lord, unlike this lizard, let me never hide;

Abiding in You may I always confide.

Self-sufficient, I never want to be,

But always believing, and trusting in Thee.

Believe it or not, that episode has stayed with me all these years, and has reminded me to07-29-15b.jpg always be transparent to God and to others. I will never hide my faith in Jesus, and I will never hide who I am in Christ. I want to safely rest in the palm of His hands.

As a Christian, my prayer is summarized in Psalm 19:14 – “Let my words and thoughts be acceptable to you, Lord.”

I pray that the church at large will also live by that Psalm.

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.

Seeing Things Differently

Dandelions! Disgracing the yard. I want grass to mow, not weeds to grow!

One day when I got home from work back in New Mexico, I found the yard blanketed with yellow flowers that would soon be replaced by round, geodesic white puff balls that easily break apart.

To eradicate the pest from the yard, we need to kill the entire plant. If we don’t kill the taproot, the plant will grow back; so something like Ortho Weed-B-Gone, or Scotts Turf Builder Weed & Feed is needed.

When we were kids in Southern California, we picked dandelions and had a grand time blowing them to pieces and watching them waft away in the breeze. We were cooperating with nature by seeding the countryside, but we didn’t know we were irritating the neighbors by seeding their yards with these vicious weeds.

And now we watch our grandkids do the same thing; but we watch with mixed emotions. It’s great watching the kids having fun, but we also know we are involved in spreading the dandelion scourge.

But wait a minute. What’s so bad about these beautiful yellow-then white geodesic weeds? And are they really weeds? Do they really disgrace the yard? After that day on our half-acre up at 7,834 feet altitude, I gained a different perspective of these beautiful specimens of life.

Some folk believe the dandelion evolved about 30 million years ago in Eurasia. But no one but God, and possibly some angels, existed that far back; so how would they know. God didn’t tell anyone. The angels probably didn’t, either.

For several days, we saw the sea of yellow flowers open in the morning when sunlight hit them, and close in the shade of the evening—much like the Morning Glory, Gazania Daisy, the California Poppy, and others.

Some theorize that these type flowers close up at night to save their nectar from nighttime plant-eating thieves. Others think that these plants close up to protect themselves from nighttime chill. Who knows? Either way, we enjoyed seeing a yard of green turn to a blazing bright yellow every morning.

Dandelion—a French word—literally means “tooth of lion” or “lion’s tooth”. (I don’t know why it was given that name.) Dandelions are officially known as Taraxacum officinale; and maybe—just maybe—we shouldn’t call them weeds. I won’t itemize all the ailments they have allegedly cured because some of it is hearsay and part is doubtful folklore. But this prolific bit of vegetation does provide benefits.

In addition to preventing soil erosion, they are loaded with vitamins and minerals. Vitamins A, B, C, and D, and iron, potassium, calcium, zinc, and some detoxifiers, are available right in your yard. Yes, they are edible both raw and cooked. It is best to harvest them before they blossom; but be sure to get them before the white geodesic puff-balls make their grand appearance.

Dandelion tea is an inexpensive diuretic. As a diuretic (it also aids in pancreatic operation), the tea can aid diabetics and those with urinary disorders. Containing antioxidants, dandelions could be useful in reducing free radicals in the body, which, in turn, could reduce the risk of cancer. Dandelions, like celery, are beneficial regarding intestinal health.

The greatest benefit comes from eating the dandelion greens raw. If you do cook them, drink the juice to retrieve what you just cooked out.

I suppose I should add a note of caution. Diabetics who are taking blood-sugar modulators might stay away from eating dandelions; it could result in hypoglycemia. Also, many folks might be allergic to the plant. So, do your research related to your own health status.

But this whole concept (eradicating dandelions) reminds me of many who want to stay away from Jesus and His church. They think “church” or the Christian religion will hinder their lifestyle; and they want to eradicate Christ from their life.

They don’t understand that, as the dandelion has healing properties that can benefit their physical health, on a much higher plane Jesus Christ has made available benefits that will aid us both physically and spiritually; both in this human life, and forever.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Our lives began at conception; but we will live forever somewhere.

Where will you spend eternity? Jesus is truly God, and He gave His life to save you from an eternity of desolation. Don’t eradicate Him from your life. Study the Bible. Live for Jesus. Enjoy eternity with Christ. His benefits are—quite literally—out of this world.

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.

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.

Tiger – My Friend

Cats are my favorite land animal, and I talk with them. No, I am not weird. I have learned to meow like kittens and cats. I can snarl a little like them too. Let me tell you about a special cat.

He was a stray that “adopted” me when I was eleven years old. I was going through a year of depression because I was convinced that no one in the world loved me. It seemed to me that none of my nine siblings or my parents cared whether or not I was alive. Then one day, a full-grown cat announced his presence in our yard. I named him Tiger. When I asked if I could keep him, the answer was, “No.”

I begged to keep him. You see, Tiger and I had bonded within an hour of his arrival. Noting the look of anguish on my face, my parents finally consented and my spirit soared!

“But that cat cannot sleep with you; the cat will stay outside every night.” Mother was firm on the idea.

“Yes, mom; I hear you” I managed to utter. But I needed emotional comfort, so I snuck Tiger in at night anyway.

After several weeks, mom became suspicious and surprised me with a late-night visit.

“I thought I smelled a cat in here. Put him outside.”

I begged over and again to let Tiger stay with me, and mom finally relented with, “Okay. But if he messes on the floor, you will clean it up and clean the carpet.” Then she left the room.

I was sitting on the edge of the bed and Tiger was sitting on the floor looking up at me. I began verbally pouring my heart out to the critter, and – I’m not kidding – when I asked Tiger if he understood, he gently said, “Meow.” He verbally responded each time I asked if he understood.

Finally, I was ready to turn out the light. But I first cupped Tiger’s face in my hands and said, “If you have to go potty in the night, be sure to wake me up. Don’t do it on the floor. Okay?” Tiger agreed with a soft, “Meow.”

Sometime in the middle of the night, Tiger awakened me by gently rubbing my cheek with his paw. I asked, “Do you need out?” Tiger placed his fore-paws on the window sill and meowed. I opened the window and he jumped out. About ten minutes later, he reappeared outside the window. I let him in, and he said, “Mew.” I knew that meant “Thank you.” Again, I’m not joking. Tiger was my best friend.

One afternoon about eight months later, Tiger didn’t show up for dinner. Dad said, “He is probably out catting around.”

The next day, dad sent me on an errand across the 4-lane highway to buy some donuts. As I reached the median, I saw the motionless form of a dead cat. Tiger had been run over!

My emotions exploded, and I burst out crying as ran back to dad. As I sobbed uncontrollably, dad gently held me close for a while. That’s the first time in a LONG time that either dad or mom expressed love to me in a way that I could understand. After a few minutes, dad softly said, “Let’s bring Tiger home.”

Picking Tiger up with a shovel, I took him and buried him in the back yard. That was 1958, but I can still show you where I buried him.

God, in His love for me, brought Tiger to fill a void in my life. And God kept Tiger with me as long as I needed him because Tiger was God’s gift of healing to my hurting soul. But, also in His love for me, God allowed Tiger to leave when I was emotionally well enough and mature enough to re-attach with my siblings and parents. God loves us and brings into our lives special gifts at crucial times.

When you are hurting, look for God’s interaction in your life. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; and don’t depend on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge God, and he will guide you.” God loves you more than you know; and He uses animals, friends, and situations to help you heal.

God used Tiger to help me for a year in my childhood; but God, Himself, will help me forever.

Leap Year – 2020

earthIt takes the earth approximately 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 45.99 seconds (a tropical year) to make the 584,336,233 mile trip around the sun at approximately 66,659 mph.

Since we count only 24 hours in a day, the accumulated time in the 4 years creates another day. We add the day in February because, for some reason, February is the shortest month.

Although the Babylonians (possibly with assistance from Jewish captives) knew about the extra time and began adjusting their calendars around 500 BC to accommodate it, the Egyptians may have been the first to come up with the idea of actually adding a leap day to the calendar. The Romans adopted this solution, and became the first to designate “Februarius 29” as the Leap Day.

Julius Caesar introduced Leap Year into the Roman calendar in 45 BC, but his calendar had only one rule: any year evenly divisible by 4 would be a leap year. This generated too many leap years, and was eventually corrected by the Gregorian calendar.

Our current timekeeping system is based on universal time coordination (UTC) which employs use of atomic clocks. Leap Seconds are applied to guarantee that UTC does not differ from the earth’s rotational time by more than 0.9 seconds. Earth’s rotation seems to be decelerating at a rate of about 1.5 to 2 milliseconds per day due to the bumping of oceanic tides, so every 450-500 days another 0.9 seconds are adjusted on the clocks. However, since that slowdown is less than two minutes per century, we won’t worry about that for a while.

Many nations have complicated rules for their calendars, but Leap Year makes things even more difficult. Here are several examples that I read. If these are incorrect, I welcome correction.

  • The regular Jewish calendar consists of 348 to 355 days in twelve months, but their Leap Years have 383 to 385 days in thirteen months.
  • The Chinese leap year also has an extra month.
  • The Islamic Hijri calendar adds an extra day to the last month of the Islamic leap year.
  • The Ethiopian calendar consists of thirteen months. Twelve months each have 30 days and the 13th month has 5 days. During a leap year, the 13th month has 6 days.
  • In Iran, after six or seven 4-year cycles, they have a leap year that occurs on the fifth year.
  • This has become too dog-gone confusing!

Traditions and folklore have abounded around Leap Day; such as:

Women were allowed to propose to men only one day every 4 years year – on Leap Day. Women looking for their man were expected to wear a scarlet petticoat – possibly a warning signal. However, Leap Day has also been known as “Bachelors’ Day” because many men tried to hide from the female suitors. That reminds me of Sadie Hawkins Day in the Lil Abner cartoon.

Supposedly, a law by Queen Margaret of Scotland mandated that if a man refused marriage, he could be fined. The fines ranged from a kiss to a silk gown, and were supposed to soften the blow of the refusal.

In several countries, a penalty for refusing a marriage proposal was to buy the woman 12 pairs of gloves. That way she could wear the gloves for a year to hide the embarrassment of not having an engagement ring.

In Finland the refuser had to buy the woman fabric to make a new skirt.

In Scotland, it was considered unlucky for someone to be born on Leap Day.

In Greece it was considered unlucky for couples to marry at any time during a Leap Year; but especially on Leap Day.

People born on February 29 are all invited to join “The Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies”; and the Guinness World Book of Records lists a family that produced three consecutive generations born on February 29.

A person born on February 29 may be called a “leapling” or a “leaper.” Leaplings usually celebrate their birthdays on February 28 or March 1, but they often have fun by claiming to be a quarter of their actual age by counting only their leap-year birthday anniversaries.

But there is another more important “birthday” that we need to consider. This one is called “the second birth” when we are “born” into the family of God by accepting Jesus as our Savior. This birthday can be celebrated every day of your life, and will last throughout eternity

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.