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.

Our Obsession With Death

Intrigue. Plotting. Guns. Explosions. Executions. Blood. Murder. Carnage. Terror. Running. Fear. Screams. Panic. Revenge. Retaliation, etc., etc. … will it ever end?

I am talking about America’s infatuation with and obsession with death. All this of the world is obsessed with it, too. All this includes television, theaters, video games, and eastern religions. There are two groups of people involved here.

The first group consists of everyone who like to watch it happen. They talk about it, meditate on it, are thrilled by it, and pay billions of dollars to support it. And many people are paid millions to portray it.

Here are the names of several rock bands: Death, Black Sabbath, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax, Avenged Sevenfold, Guns N’ Roses, As I Lay Dying, Fear Factory, Demon Hunter, Grave Digger, Grim Reaper, Grateful Dead, and many more!

Do you know what group was playing when the terrorists began murdering in the Paris Le Bataclan Theater? Eagles of Death Metal.

Other ways we manifest our obsession with death is by what we watch in theaters. Several movies are: Spectre, The Last Witch Hunter, Sinister, The Exorcist, The Babadook, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and The Evil Dead. I don’t have enough time or space to name them all. 

The theater in Aurora, Colorado was showing the film The Dark Knight Rises. Mass-murderer James Holmes entered the theater dressed like one of the evil characters and began killing. He even cunningly rigged his apartment with explosives to kill any policeman or detective who might enter. (The detectives out-witted Holmes there.)

There are hundreds of murderous and sex-crazed television series and dramas. Quantico, Zombie, Once Upon a Time, Walking Dead, Boardwalk Vampire, Six Feet Under, Breaking Bad, House of Cards, Death Note, Castle, Scandal, You’re the Worst, Penny Dreadful, and American Horror Story are but a few.

Do you see what I mean when I say we have an obsession with death? And don’t ever again believe that watching videos or movies or playing deadly video games don’t affect people! One person who was arrested for murder was asked why he butchered the 17-year-old girl. His response: “I’ve seen it so many times in theaters and killed so many times in video games, I wanted to see what it felt like to actually do it.”

We legislate God and morality out of our society, legislate evil and immorality into our society, then we wonder why all this hell is breaking out. Incredible!

Have you ever wondered why sex crimes are at an all-time high? People – both genders – see nudity on television, in theaters, and in advertisements hour after hour, day after day. When actors remove their clothing, people think, “They are actors and it is okay to watch it.” We have become a sex-crazed people. That’s because society lost its sensitivity to inhibitions that God placed in us at creation. Therefore, as people feel free to murder, people also feel free to commit sexual crimes. And it all falls under the banner of “rebellion against God.”

The second group who are obsessed with death are those we call “radical jihadists” and who are attempting to create a world-wide Caliphate. These people scorn anyone who doesn’t believe the same way they do – even those of their own religion. But they view their murderous activities in a different light than we do: they do it in honor of their god, and they don’t intend to quit! They are convinced that fomenting a world-wide war will hasten the return of their long-awaited spiritual leader. And we westerners believe the lie that jihad is not a religious war? Again, incredible.

But even Christians in the so-called “civilized countries” have a problem. We pay untold millions of dollars to involve ourselves mentally and spiritually in murder, witchcraft, and adultery by watching it – which is sin – but we don’t want to see it happen in real life. This is a world-class double-standard! Stop and think: are you guilty of this double-standard?

If you truly detest what happened in Paris, London, Pensacola, the Middle East, in the Aurora theater, and in many schools, and the hundreds of other places people are murdering people, if you believe that people should not commit sex crimes, then you need to stop watching that stuff! You may not realize it, but watching it contaminates your mind and spirit. Our crime, immorality, and pornography rate prove it.

Why does it happen? When society stops living for and worshiping Almighty God, something must fill the void. And that “something” is some form of evil.

dscn0464In order for society to change for the better, we individually and corporately must change. We must turn away from evil and learn to truly honor Almighty God.

As long as people insist on enjoying evil, evil will prevail. But if you want the world to be a better place to live, you must turn to the Lord Jesus Christ, and make your portion of the world better.

 

The Sparrow Hawk

Some years ago Tom and Shirley Whittlesey were visiting us in the hills of Northern New Mexico. Our house was situated on a half-acre with 78 pine trees throughout the yard, and eight acres of meadow and forest were next door. We were at 7,830 feet altitude and it was a cool autumn day with no clouds in the blue sky. A light breeze was blowing which caused the pine trees to gently sway, polka-doting the ground as they dropped their pine cones. As we sat on our deck, Carol brought out iced tea and sandwiches as we discussed whatever came to our minds. We’ve known the Whittleseys–who now live in Tulsa–since October of 1970, and they are life-long friends. Correction: they are eternity-long friends.

Suddenly, we were startled by what sounded like a baseball bat whacking a ball, but no one was within a mile of us. We wheeled around to see what had happened. About fifty feet into the meadow, we saw a flurry of feathers floating downward and a small bird hit the ground. A hawk with a red tail zipped down to where the bird had fallen. It picked up a lifeless sparrow with its needle-sharp talons and flew away.

We all chuckled when Tom said, “That’s the first time I saw a sparrow hawk catch breakfast on the wing.”

I had heard of sparrow hawks for decades but never knew much about them, and I certainly had never seen one in action! This was particularly interesting because killing its prey by impact is not its normal way of catching breakfast.

The sparrow hawk is an American kestrel in the Falco sparverius group. The word “falcon” means hawk. The early ornithologists thought these raptors fed primarily on sparrows, therefore the nickname of sparrow hawk. By the way, the term “raptor” is derived from the Latin word “rapere” which means “to seize or take by force.”

The Bald Eagle is America’s most famous raptor, and is also called a sea eagle because in the wild it feeds mainly on fish.

All raptors, hawks, eagles, vultures, or any other term that may apply, are opportunistic birds of prey. That is, except for the vulture, those birds are characterized by keen vision. While flying, they can detect prey more than a mile away. Vultures, including the California Condor, depend mainly on their sense of smell to locate food. Many hawks can spot a tiny mouse from more than a mile away. Or in the case of fishers, the birds have polaroid vision and can spot fish below the surface of the water even through the reflection of the sunlight on the water.

In Pagosa Springs, Colorado, I saw a Bald Eagle swoop down and grab a fish, but was almost pulled under water. After a brief struggle, it managed to lift off with a sixteen-inch rainbow trout in its iron grasp. Struggling to gain altitude, it managed to fly a hundred yards to a tree. Then, after resting for a few minutes, while almost dropping its catch, it finally began eating its fresh trout dinner.

These birds survive by stealth. Out of sight of their prey, they sit on a tree limb, glide on updrafts, or hover on their own power until they see dinner appear. Then depending on the bird, they dive anywhere from 45 to over 200 mph to grab their hapless victim. And once the victim is in the grasp of the talons, it is normally the end of the line for it.

Do you know that humans are often trapped like that?

Throughout human history, devious people have waited patiently for their hapless victims to come along, then they pounce on them using various kinds of weapons. These evil people want our money, our property, our identification, and our reputation. They use scams, casinos, pyramid schemes, loan shark offices, guns, online threats, and even steal information at ATM machines. Concerning casinos, one man said that as long as you’re willing to expose yourself to the money-losing game, the casino operators need only sit back and wait. And with increasing availability of casinos across the U.S., they don’t need to wait long.

You may have worked hard to acquire your financial status, but human vultures or hawks want your hard-earned cash. If you’re intelligent, you’ll remain vigilant and stay out of their grasp, and you’ll stay out of the casinos. Psalm 111:10 says, “Reverence for the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom.”

So honor God in all you do, and use Godly wisdom to avoid the sparrow hawks who are after you.

Breaking the Sound Barrier

At first I laughed when my father said an airplane could break a sound barrier – whatever that meant. But I grew up with many funny ideas, such as: dawn can crack, night can fall, stories have sharp points, and there are different zones in town where we can speed. And now sound has a barrier that can break? Maybe it could. We learn a lot as we grow up, don’t we?

A barrier is something that impedes or blocks movement or progress. Does sound do that? No. But there is something about a certain speed that causes problems. It is called the speed of sound, and that speed varies according to temperature, air pressure, and humidity. So, at 68 degrees F, near sea level in low humidity, that speed is about 768 mph.

As an object moves through the air, pressure builds in front of it. You experience it as you stick your hand out the window of a moving car. A column of compressed air is actually amassing against the front of the car. Also against your hand.

Interesting things happen to a jet airplane as it passes from subsonic to supersonic speed. At that critical speed, battling enormous pressure, it seems that the laws of physics change: a shock wave is generated which creates a sharp noise (sonic boom), the shock wave generates heat, and the aircraft control surfaces reverse their intended purposes: called control reversal. As the pilot tries to raise the nose of the plane, it goes down. As he attempts to bank to the right, it turns left. Because they weren’t aware of that, several pilots lost their lives in crashes in the early days of testing.

Chuck Yeager in the experimental aircraft, the Bell X-1, was probably the first man to break the sound barrier in level flight. He and his craft were dropped from the belly of a B-52 at high altitude so Chuck would have a head start – and plenty of room for error. But he did well!

We experience sonic booms as bullets leave the gun barrel, bullwhips crack, and meteorites crash into the atmosphere. Of course, the larger the object that breaks the sound barrier, the louder the boom. Meteor Crater near Winslow, Arizona was created by a meteor that was possibly 150 feet in diameter and weighed possibly 300,000 tons, and hit the desert at possibly 27,000 mph – over 33 times the speed of sound. The resulting explosion generated energy that might have exceeded 1,000 times the power of the atomic bomb over Hiroshima, and the sonic-boom might have been heard hundreds of miles away.

Why the “mights, possiblys, and approximates” in the previous paragraph? It’s because no one was there to prove the data, and those are our best guesses.

The Blackbird, the Lockheed SR-71, flew at greater than 2,300 mph (three times the speed of sound) and friction between the plane and the atmosphere generated heat of about 1,100 F. It took four air conditioning units to cool both the interior and the exterior surfaces of the plane in flight.

Although the sound barrier is no longer a problem for us because we understand it, there’s another “barrier” many folks haven’t yet understood; and that is the barrier that prevents or hinders communication with our Father in heaven.

The first step in “breaking” this barrier is accepting the fact that God exists, and that He wants to hear from us. The second step is understanding that our eternal future depends on communicating with God. It’s called prayer.

The third step is learning what prayer is. Very simply: prayer is talking with God. You talk with God just like you talk with anyone whom you can see. There is no special formula, and you don’t have to use the King James language. Tell God what’s on your mind.

Step four is learning that God actually hears you. First John 5:14 says, “And we can be confident that He [God] will listen to us whenever we ask Him for anything in line with His will.” He listens to us!

Step five is knowing that God cares for you. God’s love is manifested throughout Scripture, but here are two references to hang onto. You know John 3:16, but here is 1 John 3:1a – “See how very much our heavenly Father loves us….” God, our Creator, wants to hear from you.

Ready for step six? Talk To God. You might be surprised at how He responds, because He reveals Himself to those who sincerely desire to know truth.

So break this barrier. God is waiting.

What Do You Own?

Several years ago, Carol and I were visiting my cousin and his wife, Jim and Paula, in California. One morning as we were taking out the trash, I stopped and said, “Jim, my car’s gone.” Jim said, “No; you parked it right over … Oh No! It is gone!”

Now, I wouldn’t blame you if you don’t believe me: but I didn’t get upset. Why? When Carol and I purchased the Envoy, we dedicated it to the Lord. And as we made the payments with the income God helped us earn, we used the car for God’s purposes. To put it bluntly: we didn’t own the car – God did. Nevertheless, we called OnStar.

Within 10 minutes OnStar located the vehicle. Apparently, someone claimed that we were illegally parked (we were not) and the car was towed away. Cousin Jim drove us to where the car was stored and we retrieved it. I’m not the most mature Christian on earth, but I’m wondering: did the Lord arrange this to test the depth of my relationship with and trust in Him? I don’t know. But let’s look into “ownership.”

The verb to own: to possess; keep control over; maintain mastery over something.

So, what do you consider to be your property? Clothing? Car? truck? Horses and cattle? Your job? House and land? Do you really own these things? You do if no one could ever take them from you. However, our government thinks they own everything. Quit paying taxes and some government official will assist you with their understanding. And don’t forget about thieves, landslides, earthquakes, and fires.

So who REALLY owns it all? Almighty God does. God, as the Creator, owns people, animals, and the land. Psalms 50:7-11 – “God says, ‘My people, listen to me…I do not need bulls from your stalls or goats from your pens, because every animal of the forest is already mine. The cattle on a thousand hills are mine. I know every bird on the mountains, and every living thing in the fields is mine.’”

Leviticus 25:23 – “The land really belongs to me…. You are only foreigners and travelers living for a while on my land.”

Friends, God owns everything. But He wants us to learn to take care of His stuff, so he has given us the privilege of being His stewards, managers, or guardians.

Corrie ten Boom told a pastor some years ago: “Pastor, let go of all the things you think you own. Otherwise, it will hurt when God pries them out of your hands.”

How about skills and abilities? First Corinthians 12 informs us that abilities and gifts are given by God. So God retains ownership of the wisdom, skills, and gifts, while loaning them to us.

So, is there anything in the world that we can claim as our own? Yes: we are supposed to “own” (possess, control) our emotions. Luke 21:19 says: “In your patience, possess your souls.” That means, “Endure the situation. Gain mastery or control over your mind and emotions. Don’t give in to the problems, and don’t be overcome by adverse circumstances.” THIS is where our ownership is revealed.

No one can take from us what we truly own! And what we own in this life are our thoughts, will, emotions, and our responses to what happens in life. No one can make us do what we don’t want to do. However, we can cave in to pressure, but that’s still our decision.

There is nothing wrong with having money and things—as long as we understand that we don’t own them. We are the stewards of what God loans us. And believe me: understanding that we are only stewards of God’s stuff greatly reduces the pressures, frustrations, and worries that ownership can place on us. Why? Because God is in charge, and we merely follow His directions.

God didn’t create robots, so He doesn’t control us. But with God’s help, we can own, possess, or control our emotions, desires, and passions; and while using God’s things for their intended purpose, we leave the ownership to God.

So what do you own? To repeat: you own your thoughts, will, emotions, and personal responses. And that sets the stage for owning a clear conscience with joy, peace, and contentment.

It Was On Backwards

We lived in the high country of northern New Mexico for many years. At 7,827 feet above sea level, we lived about a half mile higher than Denver. When folks who live near sea level take a trip up there and start chopping wood or do some other vigorous activity, they find out what it means to be out-of-breath. Why is that?

Sea level atmospheric pressure averages around 14.7 pounds per square inch, and water boils at 212 F. But the air pressure at 7,827 feet is around 11.1 psi, and water boils around 198 F. Okay, that’s not a big deal; but when we remember that the oxygen content in the atmosphere averages around 20.9%, a 3.6 psi drop in air pressure effectively reduces the available oxygen by 5%. Therefore, people need to breathe deeper or more often until their bodies acclimate to the altitude.

Conversely, when Carol and I moved to Siloam Springs (altitude of 1,132 feet, air pressure of 14.1 psi, with the boiling point around 210 F), we had a much easier time breathing.

Back to my story.

In New Mexico, we lived in the forest about thirty miles from town. Sometimes we had to remove a tree that had fallen across the road. Many of us carried chain saws in the back of our 4-wheel drive vehicles, so if the tree was too large to move by hand or truck, we would cut the tree to manageable chunks to clear the road.

Tornados, which are common in the flat country, are almost unheard of in the mountains of New Mexico. But one day a small twister touched down and took out about 183 trees that ranged in diameter from twelve inches to three feet (plus tons of saplings and underbrush), and it really cluttered up the road.

Seven or eight of us gathered around the mangled mess and got out our trusty chain saws. I was real proud of my saw. Our kids gave me a Sears-Best with a 20-inch bar, and I could hardly wait to show my friends what I could do with it.

I put gas and oil in it, checked the tension of the chain, put on my safety goggles and hearing protection, and pulled the cord.

RRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!! It started up like it knew what it was doing.

I eagerly stepped up to the nearest tree lying across the road and increased the power. RRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!! I was excited and ready to throw chips and sawdust all over the road. With the saw revved at full speed, I attacked the tree. But nothing happened.

I was perplexed because my prized saw didn’t cut anything. I tried it again with the same results: nothing. No one was watching, for they were busy clearing their own portion of the road, so I shut the saw down to analyze the problem.

Have you ever felt an agonizing and humiliating embarrassment flood your soul? I did right then. Again, I looked around to see who was watching. Everyone else was busy working, and I was glad.

I had the appropriate tool, gas was in the tank, and the engine ran smoothly. But I had the chain on backwards!

Completely aggravated at myself for my ignorance, I quietly put the saw back in my pickup and did what any hard-working “wanna-be mountain-man” would do: I helped move the logs the other guys were cutting.

How many times have you discovered that a good plan wouldn’t work simply because you did something backwards? Many Christians I know complain about their lack of finances, but they squander their money at the casinos. Other folks make disastrous or poor decisions because they didn’t pray about them or seek counsel. These folks aren’t thinking properly.

But do you realize that God never gets things backwards? His plans are perfectly laid out. When something goes awry, it is us – you and me – who mess up. Proverbs 3:5-6 exhorts us: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek God’s will in all you do, and he will direct your paths.” Proverbs 4:7(a) says, “Getting wisdom is the most important thing you can do.” And wisdom comes from God.

God’s plans are perfect. Listen to Him; trust and obey Him. God is omniscient and He’ll never lead you astray.

When I returned home, I reinstalled the chain. A month later, I did successfully clear the road of a fallen tree. And if I ever get tempted to look down on someone who made a mistake, God reminds me of when I had the chain on backwards.

Does God Decree Everything That Happens?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PICT0217Friends, that is not the God of the Bible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Can’t Get Lost

1951 Del Mar FairWhen I was five years old, my parents took my four sisters and me to the San Diego County Fair in Del Mar, California. My paternal grandparents went with us, so Dad was not paying as close attention to me as he normally did.

We entered the east gate and the first exhibit we encountered was the reptile building. Snakes, especially big ones like the boa constrictor and anaconda, had my attention. Boas and anacondas are non-poisonous constrictors and kill their prey by squeezing them. Green anacondas grow to about 30 feet, weigh up to 550 pounds, and live about 10 years; while boas can grow to 14 feet long, weigh up to 100 pounds, and live up to 30 years. Female Boas can give birth to litters of up to 60 live babies that are two feet long.

I was spell-bound by the size of these critters and was fascinated by the way they moved, so I didn’t notice when the family walked away. Dad probably called my name and expected me to follow, but I heard nothing because of the high volume of thoughts racing around the corridors of my little mind.

At one point, a sheriff walked up to me and asked, “Son, are you lost?” Startled, I said, “I’m not lost because I know where daddy’s car is.” Because of the potential for getting lost in a crowd, dad ALWAYS made sure we knew where the car was.

When the sheriff asked me where my parents were, I looked around, and not seeing them I said, “I guess my mommy and daddy are lost.” Chuckling at the rationale of this five-year-old, the sheriff took my hand and said, “Well, let’s go and find them.”

We hadn’t walked far when I saw dad walking quickly toward us. I said, “That’s my daddy!” When the sheriff asked, “What’s his name?” I said, “Daddy.”

“Well”, he said, chuckling again, “I guess your daddy’s not lost anymore.” After explaining the situation to dad, he suggested to him “go light on the boy” and not punish me. But he also advised him to keep a tighter rein on me.

This concept of not being lost has followed me through life. It doesn’t matter where I am, I’m never lost because I always have a fixed point of reference. Whether it was daddy’s car as a child or my home as an adult, I always have a “home base.”

Oh, I might have an interesting time finding a place where I have never been – Carol calls that getting lost. But for me, “being lost” is not knowing how to get back to the house. But I don’t get lost because even without a GPS unit, I always know how to get back home and that brings comfort to my soul. I have a deep-seated security knowing where home is and how to get there.

Carol seldom drives on our trips because I enjoy driving. But one time I needed a break so she drove for several hours. When I woke, she said that she might have made a wrong turn and wanted to know what to do. I waited for a few minutes to see the next highway sign. I knew we were in Illinois, so when I saw South I-57 I said “We’re not lost. Keep going until you reach I-70 and turn west. That will take us toward Saint Louis, and that’s the direction for going home.”

When Carol and I decide to stop traveling, we know that someday we will have one last trip to make. That will be an exciting trip because we know our destination – heaven. We know how to get there – having accepted Jesus into our lives, He will take us. We know how long it will take to get there – immediately upon breathing our last here on earth. And we won’t have to pack anything because we will take nothing with us.dscn0464

Oh, at times I forget to follow Jesus closely, such as when I lingered too long at the reptile building at the fair. But when I ask the Lord to forgive me, I quickly get back on track.

Jesus, as presented in the Bible, is my fixed point of reference. Because I’ll serve Him and live for Him to the best of my ability for the rest of my life, I’ll never be lost. Have you made appropriate plans for your last trip?

Gnosticism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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