Detours in Life

Have you ever encountered a road-block or a detour? Is it frustrating? Aggravating? Do you wish you could give someone a piece of your mind?

Throughout our many travels, Carol and I find ourselves on detours periodically. For example,thFS0NDQ2Y several years ago we were minding our own business heading west on Interstate 70 when, suddenly, the dreaded sign appeared: Detour Ahead.

Carol had been napping, and although I was tired, I decided to stay awake – primarily because I was driving. But when the monotonous road noise changed, she woke up.

“Where are you going?” she asked.

“Well, I was making a bee-line to Denver, but at present, your guess is as good as mine.” Watching the actions of other drivers, it appeared that they might not have been as nonchalant as I was about the turn-of-events. I chuckled.

Carol asked, “What’s funny?”

“Precious, those poor drivers have not learned that emotional upheavals cannot change the way the highway departments do things – either good or bad. And they haven’t yet learned the value of detours in life.”

“Yeah, I suppose you are right. But where ARE we going now?”

“We’re heading north on Kansas State Road 232. Anything interesting on the map?”

After a few minutes of confirming our location, she said, “There is something called ‘The Garden of Eden’ on highway 18 between Lucas and Luray. Wanna go?”

“Sure; why not?”

We discovered Wilson Lake, and the scenery was beautiful. We stopped at The Garden of Eden to check it out. (We don’t recommend it; it’s not what the name infers.) After a bite to eat, we continued to Walde, Kansas. There we could have followed the detour signs and headed south toward Russell, resuming our monotonous freeway noise again. But since we were having such a good time seeing part of the country we had never encountered, we continued going through the towns on highway 18 until we arrived at Bogue, Kansas.

There we got onto highway 24 and drove another 100 miles to Colby where we were reacquainted with I-70. Carol and I thoroughly enjoyed our detour and learned more about our country. The detour set us back almost 3 hours; but that was not lost time–it was time invested together. And more importantly, my Precious and I made new memories together.

IMG_1434On another trip, we were returning from Missouri where we spent several days with two of my sisters and a brother. We had a good time. On the way back I said, “Let’s go home on some roads we’ve never been on. Carol chimed in: “Then let’s go to the War Eagle Craft Fair.” I agreed.

We turned onto Missouri highway 86. At a small town called Blue Eye, we headed south and found Arkansas 221. Again, Carol and I were enjoying the beautiful scenery. But at one point without warning, the asphalt highway morphed into a gravel road.

“Are you lost?” Carol asked.

“No, but we ran out of 221.” We laughed.

When we stopped at a cabin for advice, the man told us how to get back to civilization, eventually getting to Rogers, AR.

“Where will that route take us?” I asked.

“That’ll take ya through Eureka Springs, less you wanna either truck on the way yer goin fer nuther two hours throwin gravel, or back-track cupla hours.”

I thanked him and got back in the GMC Envoy. After discussing our options, we laughingly headed up to Eureka Springs–on a road we didn’t even know existed–and had dinner at one of our favorite places. We barely got to the War Eagle Craft Fair in time to check it out.

Detours don’t upset or aggravate us. They’re part of life. Our traveling motto is: “If we hit a detour, make a vacation out of it.” We’ve learned, however, to schedule into our plans extra time to allow for such excursions. And if we encounter no detours, we arrive early. Yay!

Some time ago I learned the following: “Inner peace begins the moment you choose not to letPICT0033 another person or event control your emotions.” I cannot control you or the highway department, but I can control my plans and reactions. I do this by asking God for direction in life which enables me to face life’s uncertainties with confidence.

Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.” Who knows? Maybe God purposely arranges some detours to gauge our maturity level.

Happy traveling, friends. 

Seven Helpful Habits

From 1994 to 2005 I was an operations officer in the Nuclear Physics division at the Los Alamos7 Habits National Laboratory. One of my responsibilities was to assure that our staff’s training was up-to-date. One day I read about a seminar titled, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change.” That intrigued me, and I attended the seminar to see if I should recommend it to our staff. I’m glad I did, and it was my privilege to meet and talk with the speaker, Dr. Stephen R. Covey. Dr. Covey condensed his seminar into a book titled by the same name: “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” (He passed away in July of 2012. America misses him, but his teaching will go on. And yes: I recommended this course to our staff.)

Covey taught that developing good habits presents more long-term benefits than trying to build a good image – corporate or personal. He said:

“The difference between the two approaches is similar to the difference between cramming for an exam and taking care of a farm. ‘Cramming’ is an image-based approach that nets temporary results, whereas taking care of a farm requires continuous, daily attention that will provide long-term dividends.”

And ‘taking care of the farm’ is the phrase he used for developing good habits for living.

The first three habits deal with the Personal Level. Individuals develop Independence by adherence to these habits.

Habit One focuses on taking control of life: Be Proactive. Don’t create or accept excuses for failure or lack of progress. Blaming or accusing doesn’t help anyone. And stop being overly concerned about things over which you have no control, but respond properly to situations. Covey called this: “response-ability”.

Habit Two is the development of a Personal Mission Statement: Begin with the End in Mind. Leisure time? Travel? More efficient teamwork? More effective sermons? Quicker meals? Whatever it is, define it. Whether you are a husband, wife, business owner, student, pastor, etc., develop goals to define your direction. This can be difficult; but once accomplished it will help you develop more effective leadership qualities needed in your personal or business life. It makes life easier and more enjoyable.

Habit Three is the essence of personal time management: Put First Things First. Separate tasks or projects under “urgent” – “important” – “necessary” – “desired.” This takes insight, planning, preparation, and promotes efficiency. It also greatly reduces time spent in crisis-management. That, in itself, is rewarding.

The next three habits deal with the Interpersonal Level. This section is more complex because practice of these habits leads to valuable Interdependence, which leads to personal and corporate maturity.

Habit Four is the philosophy that creates more productive, long-lasting relationships: Think Win/Win. We do not have to step on someone in order to succeed (except for sports games: one team must win). We need to fix in our mind that in order to truly get ahead we must depend on and help others. No one ever succeeds by himself. We must ignore our competitive instinct and help others succeed. The Win/Win concept requires courage and trust, but pays big dividends.

Habit Five is the skill that allows Win-Win to work: “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.” This concept made a long-lasting impression on me. Learning to actively understand someone else and his/her point of view is mandatory in order to effectively communicate our thoughts. If the other person realizes that I am concerned about him, he will be open to hear from me and perhaps willing to help me.

Habit Six is Synergize. Often (but not always) a corporate concept produces a better solution than our individual ideas. And this is actually the fruit of Habits four and five.

And Habit Seven is Sharpen the Saw. Our skills and methods are never perfect. Therefore, we need to continually hone or refine them.

PrinciplesThe information I gained at the seminar, and in reading the book, did not guarantee quick fixes to any personal, interpersonal or business problems. But I was supplied with tools to improve my communication skills, my outlook on life, and reduce unnecessary friction.

I also recommend two other books: “The Leader In Me” and “Principle-Centered Leadership.” To learn more about the “7 Habits” and other Covey books, contact Franklin Covey Co., Debra Lund, 801-244-4474; Debra.Lund@FranklinCovey.com.

Do You Worry?

IMG_1791Over 13 million Americans worry every day. The worries range from national, state, county and town issues. People worry about school, grades, war, the economy, home finances, children, grandchildren, their job, retirement, and so much more.

But worrying causes problems. One third of all visual problems are caused by worrying. Worriers get sick more easily. Worriers don’t get good-quality sleep. Worriers have a harder time digesting their food. Most worriers have difficulty trusting others.

Many years ago, the director of the YMCA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, had worried himself almost to a nervous breakdown. He was working about 85 hours a week while worrying about the myriad of problems that surrounded him. He couldn’t sleep well and was having a difficult time making proper decisions. Sad and depressed, he finally went for counsel.

The doctor said, “George, you’re going to ruin your health – or kill yourself – with worry unless you back20100208_172053 off. I know it will be difficult, but you must cooperate with God. You must turn all your worries over to God – and let them go – and learn to trust your staff.” George always thought his feelings and actions were directed by the Lord, so that surprised him.

After thinking it over, George took a long walk in the woods. Sitting down against a tree, he got out his pencil and paper, and wrote:

Dear God, I hereby resign as Executive Director and General Manager of the Universe.

Love, George

 “Wonder of Wonders,” George said, “God accepted my resignation!” Now eating and sleeping better, within days his strength returned and he could think more clearly. And within a few months the YMCA operations improved dramatically.

Worrying dishonors God and actually generates problems for ourselves. Why? Believing that we must personally control everything, we take our focus off God and place the focus onto ourselves. But note this:

            40% of things we worry about never happen.

            30% are in the past, and cannot be changed.

            12% are about criticism.

            10% are about health problems (and worrying makes it worse).

            Only 8% may be legitimate.

God’s prescription for our worry and stress is in Philippians 4:1-8.

     Verse 1: Stand Fast in the Lord. (Accept God’s teaching as your foundation for life.)
     2: Live harmoniously with others. (Avoid disputes and arguments.)

     3: Help others. (Remove your focus from yourself.)IMG_1799B

     4: Rejoice in the Lord in every way. (Live cheerfully. Romans 8:28 says that everything works for our good IF we cooperate with God.)

     5: Let your moderation (mild manner, appropriate actions, gentle and understanding attitude) become manifest in your everyday life.

     6: Be careful for nothing. (Don’t be concerned over what you can do nothing about. Train yourself to stay focused on the issues at hand (Rom. 12:2). Through prayer and thanksgiving, talk with God about your concerns. Converse with Him as you would a friendly counselor. Talk or pray aloud; it is okay.)

     7: The Peace of God, which no man fully understands, shall keep your hearts and minds.

(Keep = Protects or guards you in the presence of the enemy. HOW? We must REFUSE to worry, but place our lives in God’s hands.  God can’t protect us if we refuse to cooperate with Him.)

8.    Whatever is true (not hidden or imagined, but obvious),

Whatever is honest (worthy of honor and respect),

Whatever is just (right; innocent, without speculation. Don’t waste time guessing about people’s motives),

Whatever is pure (sacred, consecrated, not mixed with evil. Seriously pray about the books you read, the movies you watch, and your daily activities),

Whatever is lovely (friendly toward God, accepted by God. If God doesn’t approve of something, it isn’t lovely: leave it alone),

Whatever is of good report (reputable, wholesome),

If there be any virtue (excellence, moral goodness, high regard. This again warns us to stay away from movies, videos, books, magazines and activities that promote ungodliness),

If there be any praise (something commendable),

Think on these things (reckon, meditate, dwell).

I Thessalonians 5:16-18 says: Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

This is how we live without worry. This is how we live without stress. We must not attempt to take God’s place as the Executive Director and General Manager of the Universe – or even of our own lives. We don’t have the credentials for the job. And we must live within the boundaries that Jesus would accept.

Stop worrying; seek help if necessary.

Critical Thinking

When I was a teenager, people told me, “Stop being so critical!” Have you ever been told that? “Stop being so picky!” is another version. Yet another exhortation, “Listen to that he means, not what he says.” Wow! Since I cannot read minds, THAT’S a tricky one. 

However, we must intelligently analyze life to understand life.

For over a century our educational system diligently taught critical thinking as part of its mission. And wePICT1473 are told that nearly all American educational institutions still teach critical thinking; but do they really? My answer is a resounding NO! Several years ago, we found that “post-modernism” discarded critical thinking. Let’s look into it.

Critical Thinking: “Disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence. The mental process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing and evaluating information to reach an answer or conclusion.” The word “critical” comes from “kriticos”, a Greek word meaning “discerning judgment.” So, a critical thinker is searching for truth. My father taught me how to think critically, yet without being condemning.

Ruth Mayhew of Demand Media said, “Critical thinking is ‘self-guided, self-disciplined thinking which attempts to reason at the highest level of quality in a fair-minded way. People who think critically consistently attempt to live rationally, reasonably.’”

Clear thinking is essential for making appropriate decisions about what to believe and do, whether for personal decisions such as religious beliefs and who to marry; and vocational decisions, or civic decisions such as voting or serving on a jury. Without a well-informed, critically-thinking citizenry, freedom and democracy will falter and justice will be non-existent. Have you assessed our judicial and political systems recently? Many Judges and lawyers often discard truth in favor of procedures, word-games, personal agendas, or intimidation. I saw on the news yesterday [as of this writing] that a man on death row for murder – who had testified that, indeed, he murdered the girl – was released by a judge because of a technicality in the judicial process.

We should employ critical thinking during conflict resolution which requires understanding issues from several viewpoints. Understanding people’s needs requires critical thinking. Socrates talked about the important role critical thinking plays in our ability to consider an issue and decide what to do or believe. Critical thinking should be employed while shopping or caring for children.

DSCN1300Critical thinkers must take the context of every situation into account and think on a multi-level platform in order to come to proper conclusions. Homeschoolers have an advantage for learning critical thinking skills because they can incorporate these lessons into it their curriculum – as every educational system should do. When a person is able to make correct, intelligent choices on complex matters, he is considered intelligent and competent.

Critical thinking is required in deciding whether a claim is true, partially true, or false. It is a tool we use to arrive at reasoned conclusions based on a reasoned process. Fortunately, as with all skills, we can learn to think critically.

Now let’s apply the principle.

We read that: 1) It’s possible for a “rogue planet” to hit the earth and wipe out humanity. 2) If we vote for this person he’ll stop the problem in Congress. 3) It’s inferred that this automobile will get you the prettiest girl. Let’s address the politician first.

Regrettably, it takes only one person (US President or a judge) to negate good morals and legalizeDSCN5212 immorality. But it takes a distinct majority of the Senate and House to change direction or change a law for the better – and even then, one judge is allowed to negate the will of the people. This is wrong. Why doesn’t the US Congress apply the checks and balances which are built into the US Constitution? They are not thinking critically.

Thinking critically would entail: How will this bill or law affect the people in my district, my state, and the nation? Do the people understand the repercussion of the bill? If they don’t, I need to tell them. To say, “Let’s pass this thing so we can see what is says” does not display critical thinking. Rather, it was one of the most absurd and ignorant political statements in the history of our nation.

How about a “rogue planet”? Thinking critically we should ask: “Is this a hypothesis, theory, or fact? Is this someone’s imagination, or is there substantiation for the fear? Does he have solid evidence on which to base his claim?” Well, [thinking critically] since Scripture says that Jesus will rule this earth for 1,000 years, I don’t think we need to worry about an imaginary rogue planet.

And the car? THINK! Is the girl attracted to you or to the car? If she is attracted to a nifty or spectacular car, you won’t want her unless you are a flake. It takes more than a car to attract an intelligent girl.

Critical thinking produces information on which we can base our lives. Psalm 111:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” And Godly wisdom is mandatory in critical thinking.

New Year’s Ruminations

    Did you know that the New Year celebration is one of the world’s oldest holidays? DSCN2635BBefore 2000 BC (in Abraham’s time), the Babylonian New Year began at the first visible crescent of the New Moon after the Vernal Equinox, and could be the origination of the worship of Allah – the moon god. The moon had many names; the more popular being Nanna, Nannar, Asimbabbar, and Suen. (Suen evolved to Sin, and both are pronounced Seen.) The Babylonian New Year celebration lasted for eleven days, and our modern New Year’s Eve festivities pale in comparison to theirs.

     The Romans originally celebrated the New Year in March. In 153 BC the Roman Senate declared January 1 to be the beginning of the New Year, but the date bounced around a bit. Julius Caesar finally established the Julian calendar in 46 BC. However, because emperors had the irresistible compulsion to put their own spin on the calendar, they played with dates and got the calendar out of synchronization with the sun – again. Pope Gregory made corrections and approved the current Gregorian calendar in 1582.

     Janus was the Roman god of doors and gates, and had two faces: coming from either direction the traveler saw its face. Julius Caesar felt that the month (January) named after Janus would be the appropriate “door” to the year. One report claims that Caesar celebrated this New Year change by “ordering the violent routing of revolutionary Jewish forces in Galilee, and blood flowed in the streets.” In later years, Roman pagans observed the New Year by engaging in drunken orgies—a ritual they believed constituted a portrayal of the chaotic world that existed “before the gods conquered chaos and recreated order in the universe.”    

The early Church condemned the new years’ festivities as paganism – and rightly so. But as Christianity became politically accepted, the Church began adopting many of the pagan customs and the “Christian” New Year’s Day celebration became no different. Hypocritical Christians have always given the world reason to believe that the church was a farce; and that’s a major reason why Christians who are truly devoted to Jesus are often accused of being hypocrites. 

January 1 has been celebrated as a holiday by Western nations for over 400 years, and some churches erroneously observed the New Year’s Day festivity as the Feast of Christ’s Circumcision.

     The tradition of using a baby to signify the New Year started in Greece around 600 BC. PICT0012They celebrated their god of wine and drunkenness, Dionysus, by parading a baby in a basket. The baby represented the annual rebirth of Dionysus who was also the god of fertility. And, of course, public moral debauchery was part of the festivities.

     Traditions include using noise to welcome in a new year. This custom goes back to ancient times when people thought noise scared off evil spirits. Some eastern religions still believe this. New Year’s resolutions also date back to the early Babylonians. Their most popular resolution was to return borrowed farm equipment. That’s a good resolution – if they actually returned it.

     A 2007 study by Richard Wiseman showed that “88% of those who set New Year resolutions fail. Men achieved their goal 22% more often when they engaged in goal setting, while women succeeded 10% more when they made their goals public.” Frank Ra in his book “A course in Happiness” said: “Resolutions are more sustainable when openly shared with others.” That’s true because we find that peer-support (peer-pressure?) helps us stay on track.

     The lyrics of Auld Lang Syne (meaning “old long since” which essentially means “the good old days”) were partly collected and partly written by Scottish poet Robert Burns in 1788. The poem reminisces about and longs for the past. Good, positive traditions and memories are beneficial because they can balance our outlook on life and strengthen our character.

     So much for the past; what about the future?

     The New Year is often a time people attempt to turn over a new leaf. That means we finished writing on one page, then turn the page – turn the leaf – and write something new. It refers to changing an action, or starting something over.

     However, no matter our sincerity, merely deciding to change is meaningless without God’s help. Personal problems and national perplexities are looming on the horizon and we need help. What do we do?

     Two factors are necessary in making a substantive, permanent change. One is to seekBible.docx God’s guidance in making plans. Proverbs 3:5-6 (NCV) says, “Trust in the Lord with your whole life … He will direct your decisions.” The second is to rely upon God for the courage and integrity to fulfill His plans. Don’t get side-tracked. Psalm 111:10 (NLT) says “[Sincere] Reverence for the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom.”  And we need wisdom to succeed in doing what is right.

HAPPY NEW YEAR FRIENDS.

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?

Introduction to Prejudice

For all but two years of my childhood, I lived in Southern California; but we did move DSCN1743around within the state. In several towns people cautioned our parents “Watch out: be careful if you have to drive through [a certain part of] town. Lock your doors!” Ethnic prejudice prevailed; but as a child I rejected it, and it never took hold in my mind.

There were not many black kids in my schools, but the ones who did attend were usually lonely, and I chose to befriend them. Several times I saw adults insult people of a different ethnicity, and I disrespected them for their ignorance. Although dad was born and raised in South Texas, he taught me that we all are equal in God’s sight – and that was good enough for me.

But living in Charleston, S.C. in 1963-1964 presented an eye-opener for me. In my senior year in high school I was in the school band, glee club, and in the senior play.

But my life changed around 1:45 PM (ET) on Friday, November 22, 1963 when an uproar broke out throughout the high school. It sounded like our football team had just scored the winning touchdown.

President John Kennedy had just been murdered in Dallas, Texas.IMG_1564

I was flabbergasted, stunned, and didn’t believe it. I didn’t want to believe it! Why would anyone want to murder the president of the United States? And why would any American citizen cheer when our president was killed? Even Christian kids were cheering!

My feelings of disbelief quickly changed to hatred of those who would raucously cheer over our President’s murder. The only animosity toward a people I had ever experienced previously was in reading about the Nazis and Japanese whom we fought in WWII, and the Communists – although I never disliked them personally.

But now, I experienced a deep-seated hatred for some of my own countrymen. Not black, but white! At seventeen years of age, being raised in Church and in the military, I disdained anyone who treated human life as a disposable item. Voicing my feelings, my reputation took a turn. You see, I also had the stigma of being a Californian, and California supported the North in our Civil War. But President Kennedy, a Northerner, was hated by many in the South because he had been endorsing ethnic integration which the Deep South rejected.

My black friends in Charleston had been nervous about being seen with me. But now several of them took me aside and said: “We can’t spend any more time with you. You are not one of us, and you being with us is making our life harder. We are going to get hurt if we don’t stop being with you.”

I said, “I don’t understand. You are my friends, and I will fight anyone who tries to hurt you!”

Then the clincher. One of them said, “But next year you will be gone, and we will still be here. Who will protect us then? Don’t come around us anymore!”

THAT is when ethnic bigotry and prejudice took on a new – and contemporary – PICT0942meaning for me. I viewed the American Civil War in somewhat of a different light. It broke my heart to be deprived of friendship with the black kids. It broke their hearts, too, for apparently, I was the first white kid who ever wanted to spend time with them. I was still in the band, glee club, and the senior play, and I still got along with most the white kids, but my life had changed.

When that school year was over, I rode the Greyhound Bus back to Southern California. At midnight, I was the only passenger from Charleston to Atlanta; but from Atlanta to New Orleans, the bus was as full as a sardine can.

With only two seats available (one in the middle of the bus near a white woman, the other in the back near a black man), all eyes were on me as I walked to the back of the bus. The black man told me that I couldn’t sit there because that was the black section; but speaking so that everyone could hear me, I informed him that this was America and I could sit anywhere I chose. When he said, “You could git awful hut if you sit heah.” I said, “I’ll take my chances.”

I couldn’t see them, but in retrospect, I am sure that several Angels were accompanying me on that bus ride.

On our way to New Orleans, that black man taught me, a naïve teenager, a college course on the plight of black Americans – a lesson I have never forgotten. Prejudice is a manifestation of ignorance at best, and demonic hatred at worst – depending on how people act – and I dedicated my life to teaching truth; for it is the truth of Jesus Christ that sets people free. 

 Jesus said in John 8:33; “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Authentic Christianity

Rev. Charles Swindoll said: In order to change our world, we must live authentic Christian lives.”  But what does that mean?

Some of you may not like today’s blog, but read it anyway and see if you can understand what I am attempting to convey.

A. W. Tozer was born in 1897. He had no earned college degree but wrote many booksuntitled that impacted the 20th Century Church. During a trip by train from Chicago in the late 1940s, Tozer was inspired to write again. When the train pulled into McAllen, Texas the next morning, the rough draft of The Pursuit of God was completed. The depth of that message has made it a book in high demand – about 2 million copies in at least fifteen languages are in print.

Pastor Tozer had a drive to know God. He was not content to be merely a Godly pastor who could preach from the Bible. Tozer could be gentle with those who were actively searching for truth, but tough on those who were faking it. And his parishioners knew what it meant to be authentic Christians.

In his book Apprehending God, Tozer clearly says God wants to interact with us, but that the church around the world is basically ignorant of it. I agree with Tozer. Here are several of my own observations from around our nation:

  • People often treat the sanctuary as a secular auditorium.
  • Pre-service conversation is often not about the Lord.
  • However, as though a power switch has been turned on, people instantly enter a “worship” mode. (Is it authentic, or a trained response?)
  • After the meeting, most people go out as they came in because nothing in their lives has really changed. But some of them say, “I enjoyed the worship.”

This, in part, is what Tozer was talking about. Most people don’t understand the nature of God or what He desires. Worse yet: many of our ministers, also, don’t understand the nature of God and don’t know what it means to be an authentic Christian. 

Why do some folk have deep spiritual experiences with the Lord while others do not? The answer doesn’t lie with God, but with people. God is willing to bless all who sincerely come to Him, but many people don’t seriously study the Bible; they don’t meditate on or think about who and what God really is. Instead, too many of us prefer (as Tozer said) “glamour and fast flowing dramatic action” in our church services. Sadly, that is true today more dynamically than it was in 1948!

In our church meetings we often compete with the world for the attention of the world rather than focus on leading people in righteousness. Tozer said in 1948, “…worst of all, we have made the Word of Truth conform to our experience and accepted this low plane as the very pasture of the blessed.” In other words, most people think the hoopla and excitement in the church services is actually worshiping God and receiving God’s approval. But that might not be correct.

A.W.TozerTozer also said, “The shallowness of our inner experience, the hollowness of our worship, and the servile imitation of the world which marks our promotional methods all testify that we, in this day, know God only imperfectly, and the peace of God scarcely at all.”

How true! Since many in church leadership don’t really know what God wants, they are using the world’s methods in an attempt to accomplish God’s work. Therefore, we are pursuing the world instead of pursuing God. By placing an emphasis on being relevant to the people, we have effectively reduced the necessity of living a life dedicated to Jesus Christ. Thus, we essentially have watered down the Gospel.

I hope you readers will think about this.

Tozer said, “We have within us the ability to know Him if we will but respond to His overtures. (And this we call pursuing God!)  We will know Him in increasing degree as our receptivity becomes more perfect by faith and love and practice.”

This happens only by spending time getting to really know God. 

Authentic means not false or copied. It is something genuine, real, trustworthy, reliable; being accurate in representation of the facts. To be authentic Christians, we must stop living and acting like the world, but honor Jesus Christ in every facet of our lives – both in and out of church.

Come on now: What do you watch on television? What do you watch at the theaters? What kind of social activities do you enjoy? Would a Holy God approve of it? And don’t think God’s not watching. He most definitely is.

IMG_1799BTo be an authentic Christian, we must have an in-depth relationship with Jesus Christ. This relationship does not happen by going to church and enjoying the show. It happens by spending time with Jesus Himself through prayer, Bible study, meditating on the Life of Christ, and living in a manner that He would approve.

Authentic Christians change their world because of their Godly core values.

This life will be over somewhat quickly, and the way we live now sets the stage for what happens next. Think about it.

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.

An Important Question

Other than the church condemning me for living with my girlfriend, is there a real 1 - ChurchBible prohibition against it? We are going to be married anyway, so what’s the problem?

Thank you for your openness, and your apparent honesty. Let me start with a story.

A man was notified that he would inherit $200,000 and the money would be in his bank account in six months. However, the man wanted to build a house immediately which would cost $150,000. Since he needed the money now and the money would be his anyway, he wrote a hot check to the builder for the full amount. He was going to get the money eventually, so what’s the problem?

It’s called breaking the law. He attempted to take the money before it was legally his, and he was arrested for it.

Back to marriage. That’s the problem here: experiencing the husband-wife intimacy prior to marriage is taking what is not rightfully yours. When men and women (at any age) indulge in sexual activity outside of marriage, they are stealing what is not theirs. It is breaking the law – GOD’s LAW.

It is also gambling on the shaky future. Supposing the expected marriage doesn’t take place? Thousands of times a year we hear the cry, “We were going to be married; but after all I gave him, he left me.”

Once that boundary (of illicit sexual activity) has been crossed, it is rarely re-established. We have often heard people complain, “But he promised that after we were married he would remain faithful to only me.” However, even if they remain physically true to each other, the underlying doubts of continued fidelity often evolve into open suspicion and conflict. “He did this with me outside marriage, I wonder if he will do this with someone else outside OUR marriage.” And often the infidelity continues.

Those who experience the intense joys of the physical union with someone other than their spouse rarely develop true loyalty or a deep-seated relationship with their spouse. Why? There is often a comparison taking place. Therefore, it is difficult to establish loyalty, faithfulness, love, devotion, and trust after you are married.

This is not only a “church” issue: it’s a physical, psychologica,l and mental issue. And yes, it is definitely a spiritual and Biblical issue.IMG_1799B

Starting with Exodus 20:14 and ending with Revelation 2:22, adultery is mentioned 45 times, fornication 44 times, whoremonger 5 times, and the Bible gives a strong admonition against it.

In the Old Testament, the adulterer was to be put to death. In the New Testament, Jesus didn’t merely condemn the adulterer; He went further: Jesus reminded us that to even look on a woman with the wrong intent was equivalent to adultery. Hebrews 13:4 says, “Marriage should be honored by everyone, and husband and wife should keep their marriage pure. God will judge as guilty those who take part in sexual sins of any kind – heterosexual, homosexual, pornographic, child molestation, and all the rest.”

The issue goes deeper than lust or co-habiting out of wedlock. It is rooted in the comparison between marriage of man and woman, and mankind worshiping God. God created marriage (Genesis 2:18-25) to be holy, special, one man to one woman. Marriage was to be a human reflection of the relationship between humanity and God, and anyone or anything that corrupts this picture is an abomination or repugnance to God. That’s why the Bible equates adultery with idolatry and pagan worship (Jeremiah 3:8-9).

Remember the nagging question that will linger in the back of the mind: “Nothing prevented him/her from having sex with me before marriage; what will prevent him from doing this with someone else after we get married?” Committing adultery, fornication or whoredom creates a fault in the relationship that is almost impossible to repair.

To honor God and protect each other, wait until you’re married.

One last comment: if you have broken God’s law in this area, God will forgive you if you truly repent, and turn from this sin. God is a gracious and loving Father Who wants you3 - Cake to have a wholesome, happy life. If you truly ask for forgiveness and marry your girlfriend, God can help you to have a strong marriage. But it will take extra effort, extra precaution, a purposed devotion and care for each other to verify your faithfulness.

Don’t live life YOUR way. Do it GOD’S way. You’ll be glad you did.