God’s Amazing Grace

Have you read and thought about the words to John Newton’s famous hymn “Amazing Grace”?

Let me refresh your memory with the first verse:

     Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!

     I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind, but now I see.Boy

As a teenager I told my dad, a Navy Chaplain, “I can’t sing the song because I am not a wretch.” But my father, a wise man, said, “The man who wrote that song was speaking about himself. You need to read about him. But before you do, look up the word.” So I did.

“Wretch” is traced to the Old English “wrecca” which means “banished person.” It also means “a despicable, worthless, contemptible, or vile person.”

Well, that didn’t apply to me as a thirteen-year-old boy. The worst thing I ever did was lie to my parents and fight with my siblings. Maybe I talked back to my parents, and cheated on a test. Oh whatever – but I decided that I was NOT a wretch!

When dad asked me what I found out, I gave my report about how bad I was NOT. Granting that I was overall a good boy, dad asked me a strange question: “Are you in the same category as Jesus – one who has never sinned?”

“Of course I have sinned,” I said. “But I’m still not a wretch!” What was dad getting at anyway? Had I done something really bad that I had forgotten about? I didn’t think so. Well, I did shoot at cars with my Red Rider B-B gun one time; but the B-Bs never even came close to the cars which were a quarter-mile away. And I’m sure dad never knew about that.

Dad had turned to James 2:10 in the New Testament and read: “And the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as the person who has broken all of God’s laws.” He then asked me what it meant. All I did was to repeat the verse because it was self-explanatory.

“So,” dad asked, “are you any better than John Newton?”

Rev. John Newton was born July 24, 1725 and died December 21, 1807. In his later years, he was an Anglican minister, hymn-writer, and supported the English abolition of slavery. So, what’s the deal about a wretch? There’s more to the story.

The son of a British shipmaster, the Royal Navy captured John – a common way of drafting men into the military, sometimes called “shanghaied.” Somewhat of a rebel, he was flogged and sold into slavery. He referred to himself as “a servant of slaves in West Africa.” But he was eventually set free; and, although having been a victim of slavery, he became a slave trader.

ShipAlthough it was totally demeaning, barbaric, and inhuman to the captured Africans, it was a lucrative endeavor. Not only that, it was a joint-effort: black Africans were capturing neighboring black Africans and selling the ones they didn’t kill to the white slave-traders.

Newton married a Christian, and made a confession of faith in Christ, but continued in the evil, inhumane business of treating human beings worse than he treated his dog.

When offered a better position, Newton quit the slave trade and grew in his understanding of the evil nature of slavery. By the late 1760s Newton’s conscience was gnawing at him in such a way that he finally realized the wretchedness of his malevolent, cruel involvement, and how much he had offended God.

God had revealed His “Amazing Grace” to Newton, and the song was written in 1773. InCross 1788, thirty-four years after Newton left slavery, he wrote a pamphlet titled “Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade.” He described the hellish conditions of the slave ships, and said, “It will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders.” He joined William Wilberforce, and in 1807 they led the charge of ending the slave trade in England.

Dad was waiting for my response. I said, “According to James 2:10, since I have sinned in other areas, I am no better than a slave trader, a murderer, or anything else. I guess without Christ I did fit the ‘wretch’ category.”

Dad said, “Good boy. That is the correct conclusion.”

I now could sing the song. But it took me many years to fully understand the true wretchedness of a person without Christ. And I also understand, decades later, that if I fail to live for the Lord in the best way I know how, I would still be a wretch. 

Want about you? Have you thought about it?

Life After Death

Joe asked, “Stephen Hawking made the statement that there is no life after death. Wouldn’t that mean that Jesus is still dead? How might Scripture respond to his comment?”

The following is a quote from No Heaven? Why Stephen Hawking’s Comment Doesn’t Matter by Stephanie Pappas on May 16, 2011. “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail,” Hawking said in The Guardian. “There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”

I appreciated Joe’s question, but here is an eye-opener: Hawking’s statement is nothingIMG_1085B less than a statement of faith. Why? Because believing that there is no God is a religious conviction. Hawking was a dedicated scientist with a background in mathematics, physics, and cosmology; not religion or theology. Also Hawking had Lou Gehrig’s disease, was a quadriplegic, was confined to a wheelchair, and had no use for a god who wouldn’t heal him. His humanistic faith was based on the fact that he could not see God and couldn’t prove that there is a God.

Going one step further, Mr. Hawking placed his faith in science. In reality, that made science his god.

This is indeed a shaky foundation, because many scientists throughout history were and are devout followers of Jesus Christ and Jehovah God. Their scientific endeavors have verified to them that there IS a God.

I am continually surprised by the number of people who put faith in famous actors, theologians, scientists, and philosophers who disavow faith in Almighty God. We need to wake up. Fame doesn’t grant access to sources of spiritual knowledge that are inaccessible to the rest of mankind.

Some say that we Christians and Jews cannot prove there is a God, and they are correct. By the help of the Holy Spirit and through Scripture we can know Jesus, but we cannot prove to others He is alive or that He is God. Believing in someone or something we Atheist Symbolcannot prove is, by definition, faith.

But hold on now: NOT believing in someone or something without proof is also, by definition, faith. Hawking did not believe in life after death because that includes heaven and hell; which, in turn, requires a belief in a Creator: God. Mr. Hawking had a very strong faith that declared there is no god.

Psalm 14:1-3 describes the condition of those who refuse to believe in God. Psalm 14:1 and Psalm 53:1 say that whoever does not believe in God is foolish. I didn’t say that; Scripture did. Also, Proverbs 18:2 informs us that whoever is not interested in gaining [spiritual] understanding is foolish, for they are interested only in expressing their own opinions.

There is no scientific proof for or against life after death; either way it is a matter of faith. And believing that God is either real or a myth are both matters of faith. But there is more to faith in God and Jesus Christ than mere believing.

In the Bible and throughout history many people have spoken of their interaction with God. People have experienced, in powerful, personal ways, strong affirmations of God’s healing, presence, and provision in this world as well as His promises concerning life in the next (Luke 23:43; John 14:1-6; Rev. 21-22). Untold millions of people have studied Biblical claims and extra-Biblical claims; some have returned after dying and have a dynamically different conclusion from Hawking’s. Scripture teaches us about life after death which is called eternal life. Scripture alone is proof for us, but we cannot, in turn, prove it to anyone else. It’s a matter of faith.

Billy Graham could not speak authoritatively on science or the universe, but he was aSatellite Dish giant in the kingdom of God. In like manner, Mr. Hawking has credibility in cosmology and physics because of his work in the field (although I don’t agree with him on several scientific issues); but he has no credibility in the realm of Scripture or spiritual matters.

We all have faith, but the Bible leaves it up to each individual regarding where we will place our faith. Nevertheless, the historical declaration in Scripture is: Jesus Is Alive! There is life after death.

The darkness to which Hawking refers is reserved only for those who reject God. And that statement refers to God as found in the Holy Bible – not some other god. Therefore, examine Scripture, seek the truth, and choose life.

Living With Conviction

The newspaper headline was: “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 convince or convict”; and the noun isConviction1 “conviction.”

So, a conviction is a firm belief that we hold on to; and many times a conviction is not just an idea that we believe. It is often a value or set of values (such as wedding vows and Biblical principles) upon which we have based our lives. Therefore, convictions are the criteria by which we make important decisions, and are the foundation of our 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 by a prohibitionist. Today entire denominations decry any use of alcohol in any form, including in Holy Communion.

220px-Thomas_Bramwell_Welch (1)But society also changed in other areas because of this man of 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 for both sacramental communion and a safe beverage for home, but marked the beginning of the processed fruit juice industry.

Here are a few more 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] substitutedDSCN6260C 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 it is 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, diligent 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 folk establish your political, religious, and personal ideology? Living with and acting on convictions will produce the foundation in life you need to determine your direction and set your goals in life. Living with convictions produce character and integrity.

How do you become a person of conviction? I’m glad you asked.

Establish your core values – the values and ideas that you absolutely cannot and will not change. Now, if you say that you absolutely believe there are no absolutes – go meditate on that contradiction – that will be one of your core values.

Once you have determined some of these foundation stones of life, think about them; meditate on them and see where they might lead you. If you don’t like the result, go back and think it through again.

Reading about people like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Welch,  Charles Finney, and Billy Graham can assist you in defining and learning about convictions. Reading about Biblical characters such as Moses, Joshua, the Wise men from the East, the Apostle Paul, and especially the teachings and examples of Jesus can help you, because personal convictions help establish and confirm our identity.

May the Lord bless you as you live with and act on Godly convictions.

Peace at all Costs?

I heard it again: “I want peace at all costs!” But people who say that don’t realize it is one of the most ignorant statements a peace-loving, freedom-loving person could utter.

This is what it means: “No matter what it costs, I want peace.” And this is what it entails: “No matter the financial cost, the emotional cost, the loss of personal or national security, the loss of personal or national freedoms, the loss of religious freedoms, and no matter how many of my relatives are mocked, jailed or killed, I WANT PEACE!” Friends, that is not peace.

Okay, what is “peace”? The dictionary says: “peace is a state of tranquility; freedom from civil disturbance; state of security or order; freedom from disquieting oppressive thoughts or emotions; harmony in personal relations; and a state of mutual concord between governments.”

So, after reading that definition, we must ask: What is the foundation of peace? Before you answer, let me say: It isn’t waving a white flag or holding your hands up in surrender.

DSCN0245In the Middle-East the Israelis and their neighbors have been “talking peace” for decades. The surrounding nations attack Israel. Israel wins and the defeated nations want peace. Then they say they will keep the peace if Israel gives land back. The US urges Israel to keep the peace at all costs. Israel gives back land. The neighbors continue fighting and say they will continue to keep the peace if Israel gives back more land. Do you see what’s going on? They are lying: the neighbors don’t want peace with Israel! 

In American politics, we have liberals, conservatives, independents, libertarians, and a host of other view-points. Every person will tell you they want peace, but many of them don’t know how to achieve it. Why not? Many of them don’t understand the foundation upon which peace is built, and continue trying to bend politics their way. Actually, many of them have been deceived as to what peace is – and is not.

But we must remember: peace and freedom go hand-in-hand. Peace is not the absence of conflict, nor achieved by avoiding conflict. We do not achieve peace by hiding our head in the sand. Peace is achieved by boldly but wisely facing evil, fighting it if we must, and assuring that Godliness prevails. “Peace at all costs” cannot produce peace; therefore, the phrase is absurd!

So, what is the basis for peace? IMG_1799

Here is the shocker: TRUTH – not politics – is the foundation for peace. Abortion, sodomy, euthanasia, moral compromises, nudity on television/theater/DVD – the list goes on – are all based on lies and deception.  The abortionist wants peace, if he is allowed to kill the unborn. The homosexual wants peace, if he is allowed to press his lifestyle on others. Hollywood wants peace if it is allowed the freedom of corrupting society with gross immorality and violence. Many people demand “tolerance & diversity” but then make laws to refuse tolerance & diversity for those who disagree with them. They all are deceiving themselves, and living a lie by oppressing others.

Some churches teach that peace and love are the highest ideals, but that is not correct. Truth is the highest ideal, and must be taught in church, at home, in society,DSCN2701 and in government. Do not allow the pursuit of peace, fulfillment, or political persuasion to deter you from living a life with truth as your foundation.

 “Peace at all costs” leads to intolerance, treachery, and death. Instead, we must adopt Martin Luther’s plea: “Peace if possible; Truth at all costs!” Peace is the by-product of right intention, right thinking, and right action.

Jesus said in John 14:27a [NASB]: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled.” That last phrase could mean “Don’t let the world’s troubles disturb you.”

We can have peace in our own heart and mind in the midst of a troubled world, but worldwide peace is not possible until Jesus returns. Romans 12:18 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Therefore, with our focus on Jesus Christ, let’s establish Truth as our foundation; then pursue peace wherever possible.