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. 

Relevance or Authenticity?

Several years ago, we received a calendar from the Insights For Living ministry titled: “The Dawn of a Church Awakening.” Chuck Swindoll’s caption for June was “The Church’s Attractiveness” and Chuck wrote:

I am convinced that the church doesn’t need marketing devices, worldly strategies, live entertainment, or a corporate mentality to be contagious. Not if the glory of God is the goal. Not if the growth of God’s people is in view. Rather, the church needs biblical truth taught correctly and clearly … and lived out in authenticity.

Now that’s a mouthful. I found ten themes: the Church’s nature; marketing devices; worldly strategies; entertainment; corporate mentality; God’s nature; spiritual growth; biblical truth; ministry; and reality.

The two central themes around which the other eight revolve are the Church’s nature and God’s nature. And the nature of the church directly affects how the world views the nature of God. So, how is the church doing?

For over fifty years I’ve heard “the church needs to be relevant” in order to influence the world for Christ. I might agree with that statement, but I need to see what it means first.

Relevant has various meanings, but the current meaning is pertinent to the matter at hand.

So is the church being relevant to the world? Yes. But we have a problem. The little-known church motto is: “The Bible is our standard for faith and practice.” That means our faith, lifestyle, and actions should conform to Scripture. However what we find is the church is conforming to the world.

The world is on a fast-track heading away from Jesus Christ. Those in an ungodly lifestyle have no intention of being influenced by the church, but the church wants to be relevant. Therefore the church adopts much of the world’s music, entertainment preferences, activities, and behaviors in order to promote identification. But as the world continues its trajectory away from God, the church, still wanting to be relevant, continues toward the world.

Do you see what’s happening? Many in the church, desiring to influence people for Christ, identify with non-Christians by becoming like them. Recently I heard a member of a Christian rock band say, “We try to be on the level of the main-stream artists.” And that’s the downfall of the church as it becomes relevant: many in the church look and act like non-Christians. Therefore, they begin living like non-Christians.

One New Mexico pastor asked a young man, “Would you like to become a Christian? God will accept you just the way you are.” The response was, “Sure, man; why not? There really is no difference between your church and my group anyway. I’ll accept your Jesus.” The truth was: he did not accept Christ; he merely joined a church.

Many in the church dress, act, talk, and live like the world, thus, blurring the distinction between church and world. That’s why many non-Christians don’t see the need to turn away from their detrimental or harmful lifestyles.

For fifty years the church’s priority has been to identity with the sinful world rather than promote the Glory of God through Jesus Christ. A youth pastor I know takes several youth groups to pagan rock concerts where drugs and alcohol flow. When I challenged him about it he said, “Pastor Linzey, it’s the same music as Christian rock, but we tune out the words so it is okay. We like to use this kind of music in our churches but use Christian lyrics. That makes the music Christian. Also, after we get the kid’s attention, we can teach them about Christ.”

That sounded good, but I learned later that if he stopped paying for their rock concert tickets, they stopped attending his youth meetings. So, where is his authenticity?

A problem is that we are confusing concern with identification; and that degenerates to watering down the Gospel. We also need to understand that religious activity often blocks the voice of God. And if there’s no observable difference between church and world, we are preaching the wrong gospel.

Chuck Swindoll is right: In order to change our world for the better, in order to truly influence people for Jesus Christ, we must live authentic Christian lives.

Hear From God, and Obey Him

IMG_1791The Apostle Paul had an attitude. Whether you call him a Christian, Jew, or Roman, he was at times hard to get along with.

Naw! Wasn’t Paul gentle, compassionate, the teacher of the early church? Didn’t Paul write 13 of the 27 books in the New Testament? Didn’t Paul say in First Thessalonians 2:7, “We were gentle among you, as a nurse cherishes her children”? Paul had an attitude?

Yes he did. Let’s take a closer look at Brother Paul.

In Acts 7, Paul (then Saul) encouraged the killing of Stephen – the first Christian martyr. Paul might have called it an execution, but I call it murder. Then in Acts 9:1, “Saul was still threatening the followers of the Lord by saying he would kill them. So he went to the high priest and asked him to write letters to the synagogues [authorizing the arrest of Christians] in the city of Damascus.”

Saul was the scourge of the infant Church!

But Saul was a Pharisee and a staunch advocate of truth. Really? Yes. Although Jesus criticized some Pharisees for being hypocrites, others were unswervingly dedicated to truth. This described Saul. He was “a Pharisee of the Pharisees” – that is, he was a Pharisee and the son of a Pharisee. Pharisees were teachers of the Jewish law, and Saul pursued truth with his entire being; at times even becoming angry at those he considered to be in error.

When Saul became a Christian, his name eventually changed but his character didn’t change. He remained consistent: adamant for the faith, but now unwavering for Jesus Christ.

We also notice something else. At first Paul didn’t fully understand that God has different plans for different folk. It took him some time to comprehend what he eventually wrote in 1 Corinthians 12 about each person having a place in God’s plan. This takes us to Acts 15:36.

Paul and Barnabas were ready to start their second mission trip. Disdaining Mark for previously deserting them, Paul resolutely refused to allow Mark to go again. But Barnabas wanted Mark (his nephew or cousin) to go. The disagreement turned into a major blow-up, so Paul and Barnabas – neither one understanding God’s larger plan – petulantly parted company.

This kind of thing also happens in the Church today. Someone gets a direction from the Lord and thinks he sees the full picture. Then when someone else hears form the Lord a little differently, the first person thinks the second person is totally wrong. They discuss it and/or argue over it, and often part company. Ministry teams are split, the church or even denominations are split. That is a human (sinful) reaction, and has caused problems throughout the history of the church.

But what we should do is stop and pray about it; think about our options. We need to realize that no one human sees the entire picture. This is why Paul eventually wrote 1 Corinthians 12: the eye needs the ear; the ear needs the nose; the eye, ear, and nose (and the rest) need the baby toe. (By the way, the baby toe provides stability while walking and tip-toeing.)

If Paul had remained calm and asked the Lord about it, he could have realized that God had a different plan for the three of them. What happened next? We find TWO ministry teams going out: Barnabas and Mark, and Paul and Silas.

The name Barnabas means “son of encouragement or consolation” although some say it means “son of a prophet.” It fits either way. And Mark? He is John Mark who later wrote the Gospel of Mark. The separate ministry teams were God’s plan! Ministry multiplication – not church torn apart!

We all have a role to fill, and we must find our place in God’s plan. The Holy Spirit will lead us if we pay attention. We all need each other. Each Christian needs the others. Each minister needs the church members and needs fellowship with ministers in his own and in other denominations.

When someone challenges your plan or appears to be challenging your pet project, don’t panic, freak out, or get upset. Pray about it. Maybe God is trying to show you a larger view of the picture, or give you another piece of the puzzle. You will need that larger view or puzzle piece to fulfill your mission in life. God empowers His children to fulfill their part of the plan. So, settle down. Pray about it. Do your part. Hear from God, and obey Him.

Is Sincerity Enough?

“I don’t believe I have to become a Christian in order to be good. Won’t God accept me as long as I am sincere about my beliefs?”

That question from one of our readers has been asked for centuries. My question for him was: “Are you inferring that ‘sincerity’ on whatever topic is equal to truth?” He couldn’t answer that.

Sincerity is an admirable character trait. It derives from sin-ceré, which literally means “without wax.” The second-rate potters in ancient times often filled the cracks in their pottery with wax, then painted over the dried wax to make the item look like a first-class vessel. But when the pot was heated the wax melted and the liquid leaked out. Therefore, the respectable potters began writing on the bottom of their pots sin-ceré. The buyer knew she could trust this merchant and his merchandise.

Sincere is used today as: not feigned: true; presenting no false appearance. However, you probably understand that this word is often used insincerely — that is, as a smoke screen. Many times, when someone asks a question like the one above, rather than seeking truth they’re actually attempting to justify their questionable lifestyle. That is not being sincere.

Some people think they are living a good life, but Proverbs 16:25 says: “Some people think they are doing right, but in the end it leads to death.” I read of a professional basketball player who playfully pointed his gun at a friend. Sincerely believing the gun was not loaded, he pulled the trigger. When the resounding explosion subsided and the smoke cleared, his friend was dead.

Sincerity does not make something true; rather, truth substantiates faith, or exposes ignorance.

No one can make a rotting apple fit for human consumption. Likewise, Christianity was not instituted as a program to make people good. Matthew 19:16-17 says: “Someone came and asked Jesus, ‘Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?’ Jesus responded, ‘Why do you call me good? There is only one good person; that is God: but if you desire eternal life, keep the commandments.’” (Read the rest of Matthew 19 for the remainder of Jesus’ message.)

Attempting to become good, or turning over a new leaf doesn’t change us. Rather we need to recognize that human beings are basically self-centered, hedonistic, self-gratifying. Our apple is rotting, and we need to replace it. Then we need a brand-new start, and that new start comes with accepting Jesus Christ into our life. (Acts 4:12, John 3:16)

The ancient Canaanites (among other ethnic groups) sincerely believed in gruesomely killing their children as an offering to appease their gods. Some tribes in South America and Africa sincerely believed that if they captured, killed, and ate other people, they would receive their (the dead person’s) wisdom, knowledge, bravery, strength, etc. Other groups have done even more horrid and gruesome acts to appease their gods. Some groups have taken wood, stone, and/or metal, shaped them into images, assigned personality to the images, and called them gods. Yet other people say, “There is no God!”

Does sincerity of any of those beliefs validate them? You realize, of course, the answer is “No.”

Jehovah, God, is the God of Truth. Jesus said in John 14:6, “…I am the way, the truth and the life: no one comes to the Father except through me.” And in John 18:37b, Jesus said, “…all who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.” And He cannot place equal value on our lies or misconceptions as He does on Truth.

If two people are talking with you, and one is known for his knowledge while the other is known for his ignorance, you also will place greater trust in the knowledgeable person — and rightly so. If you don’t, then your integrity is in question.

The Biblical concept of sincere is: without blemish, perfect, upright, complete, pure, honest. So I repeat: Sincerity of our beliefs does not make something true; rather, truth substantiates faith, or exposes ignorance.

Therefore, sincerity is not the issue. Truth is the issue. So, will God accept you? Yes, but not on your terms. Don’t attempt to decide for yourself what truth is. Rather, accept the “tried-and-true” gospel — the Good News — found in the Bible.

We must come to God on His terms. What are they? “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son; that whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting Life” (John 3:16).

Base your sincerity on what the Bible says.

The Serpent

Some time ago, a man asked: “Pastor Linzey, I am sure you have heard about Eve talking DSCN8248with a snake in the Garden of Eden. Do you really believe that non-sense?”

I’ve been asked that question on numerous occasions, but normally it’s worded a little more kindly.

The Scripture in question is Genesis 3 which starts with (KJV), “Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field.” The narrative continues with Eve carrying on a conversation with this being; then verse fourteen says, “And the LORD God said unto the serpent, because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life.” This story is crucial to understanding the history of mankind, the Bible, and our faith.

Several different Old Testament words are used for serpent and the translations or applications are: serpent, snake, image, dragon, fleeing serpent, whale, sea monster, river monster, dinosaur, fiery serpent, majestic beings, seraphim, afraid, worms, and crawling.  The word for serpent in Genesis 3:1 is nachash and has been rendered serpent; not because it was a snake, but because it hissed. In medieval literature we read that witches hissed. This word hiss means to prognosticate (know the future), whisper a magic spell or an enchantment. Snakes cannot do that, and that is the first clue that the serpent was not an animal.

Another thing to consider is that snakes don’t have vocal chords. That’s the second clue.

Thirdly, Genesis 1:28 says in part, “…Rule over the fish in the sea and over the birds in the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Therefore, Eve would not take instruction from an animal even if it could talk. But she would take instruction from a god-like being. Hold on to that thought.

Genesis 3 starts out: “Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field….” The fourth clue is that this word “subtil” (subtle) means in part: cunning, crafty, shrewd, clever, intelligent. It also infers being bare, smooth, no fur, and to give bad counsel. The better versions do not say “more subtil than any other beast”; rather, “more subtil than any beast.” Even the wording here sets this serpent apart from the animal kingdom.

The serpent (snake) was considered a type of god in many other cultures around the world, and even in parts of Europe up to the 18th century. For example:

>Ningizzida (supposedly the ancestor of Gilgamesh) was sometimes depicted as a snake with a human head, eventually becoming a god of healing and magic.

>The Cambodian Khmer people are said to be the descendants of the Naga (snake god) – Princess Soma – and her husband.

>Quetzalcoatl (feathered serpent depicted here), was the principal god of the Aztecs.

>Olympias, the mother of Alexander the Great and a princess of the land of Epirus, claimed that the serpent (title for one of the gods) was Alexander’s father. This allowed Alexander to be deified. All involved fully understood that a snake was not being called Alexander’s father.

>The word serpent is of Latin origin (serpens, serpentis), is commonly used in a mythical or religious context, and was often related to deity.

Where am I going with this? Eve was not approached by a snake climbing a tree and eerily hissing or whispering at her. Eve, created in the image of God, would not have been persuaded by a lowly animal – even if it could talk.

It was, also, Lucifer, the fallen arch angel – not a snake – who met with and tempted Jesus in the desert. The Apostle Paul said (2 Corinthians 11:14) that Lucifer can appear as “an angel of light” (knowledge). God created Adam and Eve, and granted them more wisdom and knowledge than any other humans in history. They didn’t have a sin nature so they could not be tempted to sin. But God instilled a free will so they could make their own decisions.

As Lucifer tempted Jesus, he previously tempted Eve. Jesus was not deceived, but Eve was. Adam was not deceived: he disobeyed and made a bad decision.DSCN1638

The phrase “on your belly and dust you shall eat” is an old curse still used in the Middle-East today, and is meant to humiliate someone; but it doesn’t mean that the person will actually grovel in the dirt and eat dirt.

Conclusion: Eve, who had not seen God as Adam did, did not converse with a snake. Lucifer appeared in a form (Angel of Light) that resembled Adam’s description of God. We do not disdain or disparage women because of Eve. She was not ignorant or stupid: Satan tricked her. Eve was the most intelligent and the most knowledgeable woman ever to grace this planet. But Eve did not speak with a snake; rather she spoke with a being who looked like Adam’s description of God.

What is an Occult Religion?

adorable animal blur cat

First of all, let’s clear up a misunderstanding. Many people confuse Occult with Cult, but the words are not the same. Occult has the same root as ocular, and involves the lack of sight or vision. It refers to “not apprehended by the mind; beyond the range of ordinary human understanding; secret or esoteric; of or pertaining to magic, astrology, or any system claiming use or knowledge of secret or supernatural powers or agencies.” Christianity does not fall into this category because it is an open religion. The Bible says that the heavens declare the glory of God;.Jesus came to reveal the Father, His majesty and power. We also have open Scripture upon which to base our faith.

It is true that in the Old Testament, God tell us that His ways are not our ways and He has wisdom that is beyond our understanding. However, the New Testament tells us that Jesus came to make His ways known to us. In fact, the last sentence in First Corinthians chapter 2 says, “We have the mind of Christ.” That means God’s thoughts and desires are available to those who truly love the Lord and live for Him.

Cult, on the other hand is “a specific system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and deity; a group having an exclusive ideology and ritual practices centered on sacred symbols; from cultus: cultivation, refinement; which is derived from colere: to tend, guard, cultivate, till.” Christianity and Judaism have sometimes been erroneously called cults. Why? Because although part of this description fits, Christianity and Judaism are not centered on symbols; but on God, Himself. Again, Christianity is an open religion. It is based on a relationship with God, not on feelings or unknowable mysticism.

Cult is etymologically related to culture, for culture also stems from colere. But culture took a turn in its meaning: it eventually added “cultivation through education” and “the intellectual side of civilization.”

Occult qualities have no rational explanation. For example, in the Middle-Ages, magnetism was sometimes called an occult quality. Newton’s theory that “gravity was effected through action at a distance” was harshly critiqued by his contemporaries as occult. Of course, they didn’t understand Newton’s concept.

All occult practices involve the invocation of a deity or deities. Therefore, occult systems are religions. Occult practices also include rituals and ceremonies which somewhat parallel traditional religions. For example, shamans – also called medicine men – are the healers and magicians of their tribes and villages as well as the religious or spiritual leaders.

Some folk attest that the traditional Judeo-Christian religions are also occult; however, there is a distinct difference when it comes to Worship. Where the occult is concerned with contacting the forces of nature (“the Force be with you”), spirits, or the imagined Masters of the Universe to affect a desired change, the true Judeo-Christian belief system is focused on worshiping, petitioning, and obeying Almighty God. True Christianity views the occult as being anything supernatural which is achieved by or through the work of Satan, evil spirits, or man himself.

Gnosticism, which has many branches and could have originated as early as 600 BC, was the basic occult philosophy that is addressed by a number of the New Testament letters. Of course, Gnosticism has its roots in the Ancient Mystery Religions which predates Noah’s flood. The Gnostics [“knowers”, or those with knowledge] believed that “knowledge” was the key to life; and that if we gained knowledge, we could achieve salvation – or at least, attain a higher spiritual position. There are several well-known organizations today which espouse the same philosophies. Rather than promoting a relationship with Jesus Christ or God the Father, they promote learning, attaining knowledge, seeking truth, or seeking light. One of the basic tenets of one organization denies the deity of Christ while exalting man. Today, the New Age Movement encompasses all of Gnosticism and a myriad of other occult religions.

It would take a number of books to list all the occult groups and their beliefs and practices, but here is something to consider:

Occult [read the definition above] practices include, but are not limited to: tarot card and palm readings, witchcraft and wizardry, self-realization, psychics, and horoscope dependency; praising and idolizing activities, music, and people; self-improvement and meditation systems that deny or circumvent Jesus and/or Jehovah God; any religion or organization that exalts the human body, mind, or spirit without depending on God, makes Lucifer equal to or greater than Jesus, makes man equal to or greater than God, or who worships anything, any spirit, or any god other than God in the Old Testament and Jesus Christ. Any religion or organization that says we can achieve or attain salvation, immortality, or perfect light without Jehovah or Jesus is an occult religion. The Bible gives us true knowledge, and leads us to our Creator, Almighty God.

Did God Create Evil?

When was the last time you heard that question? What was your answer? Or did you have a deer-in-the-headlights look on your face? The question is normally NOT asked in search of information, but either to strengthen the emotional barrier that blocks God out of a person’s life, or to hide some deep-seated hurts he is bearing. And he asks the question, knowing that he can shoot down most answers that people usually give. He’s done it many times and is good at it.

So, what IS the answer? You probably already know, but I’ll put it in a way that you can get a better handle on it. For starters, the following is a real interaction I heard back in California.

Challenger: “Did God make everything?” Christian: “Yes.”

Challenger: “That means God also made evil?” Christian: “No.”

Challenger: “Then God didn’t make everything?” Christian: “Well, uh …”

And the challenger was happy that he, once again, defeated a hapless Christian in a worthy debate.

But allow me to give you food for thought. I’ll ask several questions, but will also provide the answers since you’re not here to answer them for me.

Is there such a thing as cold? No, there is not. But we do have the concept of temperature where:

1) Absolute zero (absolutely no heat) is 459.67 degrees below zero F., minus 273.15 Celsius, and 0 on the Kelvin scale.

2) Fresh water freezes at sea level at 32 F, 0 C, and 273.15 Kelvin;

3) The average human temperature is around 98.6 F, 37 C, and 310.15 K;

4) 78 F in the house is 25.55 C, and 298.71 K.

So we cannot turn the cold up or down – we remove or add heat. And for the record, outer space (far away from stars and planets) is around 3 degrees Kelvin. If that makes you feel cold, put on a sweater or a jacket.

Is there such a thing as dark? Again, no. But we do have various intensities of light. Partial darkness (if it can be called that) is a reduction of the intensity of light, and total darkness is the total absence of light. The closest I have ever come to being in total darkness was in the big room of the Carlsbad Caverns – 700 feet below ground. They could not turn on the dark, but they did off the lights. And it was DARK!

Now we ask: Is there such a thing as evil? The answer once again is, no. Where cold is a reference to the reduction of heat, and dark is the reduction or absence of light, evil is the absence of or the rejection of the holiness of God. Evil is not a thing or a cause: evil is a result.

You may ask, “What about murder, rape, robbery, sexual deviancy, hatred, etc.?” I can tell you, on authority of Scripture, that none of that is in heaven where the pure holiness of God prevails.

The lower we set the temperature, the colder it gets. The lower the light setting, the darker it gets. So the lower the level of Godliness in our lives and in society, the higher will be the intensity of evil – murder, rape, sexual deviancy, drug abuse, etc.

Billy Graham never said, “If you will just stop living like you are, if you will just stop your sinning, you will become holy!” But he often said: “If you will come to Jesus and ask Jesus to forgive you for your sins, if you ask Jesus to come into your life, you can become a new person and learn to live for the Lord!”

We do not stop doing evil to become holy; but we come to Jesus and become holy and the result is that we stop doing evil. But learning to live for the Lord is a process: we do not become a mature Christian overnight.

If I trip and drop my coffee cup, I would not create a broken cup. Rather, the broken cup would be a result of my carelessness. Likewise, evil is not a thing or something created; rather, evil is the result of rejecting God – a lack of Godliness.

Our holy God did not create the devil, nor did he create evil. He created the angel Lucifer. But Lucifer – of his own free will – disobeyed, and evil is the result. Likewise, God did not create all the mess of humanity in this world. The mess is the result of rejecting a holy God.

If you want to see a reduction of evil, turn to the Lord and begin living for Him.

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.

The Purpose of Miracles

What is a miracle? Several years ago, a man told me, “If you can explain it, it wasn’t a Question Markmiracle!” I found that rather humorous; but because the man was serious I didn’t want to insult him by laughing. However, that is not a criterion for miracles.

I find two basic types of miracles, with several variations of the theme. 1) Supernatural: God works above, against, or outside the laws of nature. 2) Natural: God uses natural phenomena or natural laws; but inexplicable timing is the key element.

The Veritas Bible commentary says,

Miracle may be defined as that which takes place by Divine power outside the ordinary course of nature. Miracles are not an end in themselves but are intended to show either the truth of what is taught or the presence of God in the person who teaches. The object of Christ’s miracles was to prove His Divinity so that men might come to salvation.

I agree. The purpose of miracles is to glorify God, although mankind does benefit from them.   Let’s address the supernatural element first; and I want to start by saying that LIFE is a miracle.

The first miracle I find in Scripture is creation. A long-standing scientific principle says, “Matter can be neither created nor destroyed; but can merely change state.” That is: change from solid, to liquid, to gas, and (temporarily) to plasma. You and I create things out of stuff that exists. That is fabricating, but isn’t a miracle. God, Who exists outside time and space, created stuff out of nothing. That’s a miracle.

So, if matter cannot be created, but it exists – and matter cannot spontaneously appear from nothing – we know there is a God Who has always existed outside time and space. God is the great “I AM” – the eternal, self-existent One; the first cause of all things. (Remember that phrase because nothing can happen without a cause. That is also a scientific principle.)

Another above- or outside-nature miracle is raising the dead to life. Stated very simply: PICT0122man can neither create life nor restore life; but God – Who is outside time and space – can. Physical healings are sometimes miraculous. And, of course, one of the greatest miracles is exemplified in our eternal salvation. Looking at a baby reveals the miraculous power – and love – of God. But (don’t think I’m beingIMG_1439 funny here), watching an egg hatch also reveals the miraculous power of God. Think about it: man cannot instill or create life.

Now, for miracles in the natural realm.

An example (inexplicable timing) of the second type of miracle is found in Joshua 3:14-17 where the Jordan River stopped flowing at flood-time for the Israelites to cross over. DSCN4904Verse 16 says, “the water above that point began backing up a great distance away at a town called Adam, which is near Zarethan. And the water below that point flowed on to the Dead Sea until the riverbed was dry. Then all the people crossed over near the town of Jericho. (NLT)”

A supernaturally-timed land-slide temporarily blocked the river’s flow. When the nervous priests reluctantly, yet obediently, stepped into the flooded Jordan River, they didn’t know the water level was about to recede. Then, after more than a million people with all their animals crossed over, the temporary earthen dam gave way and a tsunami of water, rocks, and mud came crashing down the Jordan River. God caused the heavy landslide at the right time which blocked and contained the water until the right time. The timing was miraculous.

The Bible records about 37 miracles performed by Jesus, and He said in John 14:13, “If you ask for anything in my name, I will do it for you so that the Father’s glory will be shown through the Son.”

THAT is the purpose of miracles: that the Father’s glory will be manifested, and that His purposes will be fulfilled on earth and in heaven.

Miracles are not for our self-aggrandizement or to puff up our reputation. They are not even primarily for our benefit. This is where many in the Church make their mistake: they focus on the miracle or on what they think they did through “their word” or by “their faith.” We must face the fact that, although man does benefit from them, miracles are for the purpose of exalting God.

Jesus said in Luke 10:20, “Don’t rejoice because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are registered as citizens of heaven.”

So, don’t brag about your faith or your prayers. Learn to align yourself with God. Pray, act, and speak in concert with God’s will, in Jesus’ name, and allow God to receive the credit. He’ll bless you for it.Bible.docx

Just remember: The Bible lets us know that the purpose of miracles is to glorify God.

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?