A Sword for the Lord, and for Gideon

What’s your favorite Bible story? Daniel dropping in to visit the Lions? Noah surfing the grandest of all tsunamis? David creating a giant headache? They are all-time favorites for most of the church, but have you considered the story of Gideon?

This story, found in chapters six through eight in the book of Judges, is the foundation for one of the great ministries in modern times.

While in Los Alamos, NM, I was invited to a dinner hosted by the local Gideon camp. Meeting at the Morning Glory Bakery, President John Elder, Randy Rowan, Charles Knoop, Kevin Albright and others were in attendance. I have known of the Gideons most of my life, and have known these men for several decades.

When I returned to Siloam Springs, Paul Kimball surprised Carol and me by inviting us to a Gideon camp dinner at the John Brown University. There were about fifty attending, including Marshall Orcutt, Paul Kimball, and Milton Lundberg.

The Gideon’s devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ, and their love and concern for people is unsurpassed. But why do they call themselves Gideons?

I can’t tell the whole story here, but look at several data points. The Angel of the Lord chose Gideon to do an impossible job. When Gideon destroyed the village idol as a result of the angelic visit, the townsfolk wanted to kill him. I laugh when reading what Joash, Gideon’s dad, said, “If Baal is a god, let him fight for himself. It’s his altar that has been pulled down.”

The Lord gave Gideon a fool-proof battle plan; and because Gideon obeyed, 300 men overcame more than 135,000 of the enemy. A few is an overwhelming majority if God is in it. Remember this: God is not impressed with our ability; God is not depressed with our inability; But God is blessed with our availability.

In 1899 three men – Samuel Hill, John Nicholson, and William Knight – banded together and formed an association. They decided to call themselves “Gideons”. They met for several years. The group grew, and they felt impressed to distribute Bibles. Then in 1908, Pastor E. R. Burkhalter, First Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Kentucky suggested in a Ministerial Union meeting that “Gideon Bibles be placed in all local hotels and that the Union be responsible for the funds.”

Quoting Paul Kimball, “The Gideons International serves as a missionary arm of the local church, distributing over 1,000,000 copies of Bibles and Life Books every 5 days. Every Scripture distributed is funded by contributions from churches and individuals, and from the Gideon Bible Card Program. 100% of these contributions go for the purchase and placement of Scriptures (Gideon dues cover overhead). Millions of people around the world have no access to Scriptures, but with the support of generous contributors, Gideons ensure that many of them have a copy of God’s Word for their very own.”

Randy Rowan said, “Many of the public high schools in the USA no longer allow the Gideons to come on campus and distribute scriptures; so the Life Book program was developed so Christian students can share the gospel with their peers. The Life Book is a gospel of John that has handwritten comments and questions in the margins that reflect the perspectives of four high school students (male and female of different ages) and one adult. In the back of the Life Book is a gospel presentation in the form of a series of questions followed by a section on problems commonly faced by teenagers, along with scriptural advice on how to address those problems. Any pastor or youth pastor may order up to 1,000 of these Life Books free of charge at www.thelifebook.com.”

In 1908, The Gideons International placed the first Bible in a hotel room in Montana. Today, as of August of 2019, Gideons are organized in 200 countries around the world. Bibles and New Testaments are distributed by The Gideons International in 107 languages, and more than 2.3 billion Bibles and New Testaments have been placed through the Gideon ministry.

The Gideons are a few people doing an almost impossible task – attempting to distribute Scriptures to the entire world. The devil’s forces fight them but God gave them an excellent battle-plan. I encourage you, both reader and church, to support them financially. The Gideons pay the overhead themselves, so every dollar you give buys Scriptures – and saves lives.

May the Lord bless you as you support the Gideons International organization.

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. 

Is Anyone Normal?

The study of psychiatric abnormality, the diagnosis of abnormality, and the medicating of those deemed not normal is a big business today. Two major prongs of study are that of autism and ADHD. Controversy overshadows each one because as humorist Patsy Clairmont said, “Normal is only a setting on a dryer.”

Let’s talk about normality and ADHD.

One report says, “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is the most commonly diagnosed behavioral disorder of childhood. It affects about 3 – 5% of school aged children. ADHD is diagnosed much more often in boys than in girls.” The report says that the symptoms fall into three basic groups: inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

Did anything in that last paragraph catch your attention? Let me rephrase it. Inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity are more prevalent in boys than in girls. Surprise? No. Any parent in the past 6,000 years could tell us the same thing without a multimillion-dollar study. Boys are generally more restless, noisier, and have a harder time paying attention. That’s the nature of boys. So why is it called a disorder?

A medical definition of disorder is: “A disturbance or derangement that affects the function of mind or body. Also, to disturb the normal physical or mental health of someone.”

Dear reader, if that is the proper medical definition, then I submit to you that boys do not have the disorder: rather boys are the disorder. (I am joking.)

Historically parents taught children to obey and to respect their elders. When they disobeyed or were overly disorderly, they were disciplined in some manner. And the human race trucked right along for thousands of years without having to drug any hyperactive or inattentive rascal. And hyperactive boys (okay: some girls, too) somehow managed to grow up into decent law-abiding citizens who, in turn, learned how to harness their own children’s energy. But a change was made in the 1950s.

Under the leadership of several medical doctors and psychiatrists – Dr. Benjamin Spock one of them – a new parental paradigm emerged. My over-simplified version is this: Allow the little ones to develop into their own person. Don’t attempt to mold them or their little psyches may be damaged in the process.

Well, the new parental paradigm evolved under the leadership of the evolving American Psychiatric Association, and in 1980 they coined the now popular term: ADHD. That seemed to be a wonderful solution, for parents were finally absolved from the responsibilities of teaching and disciplining their offspring.

Reacting to the fear of being abnormal, they can have their little blossoms drugged into submission. And now over 1,000,000 kids may be inappropriately diagnosed as having ADHD, with over 800,000 of them receiving behavioral medication. The behavioral modification drugging continues until the person learns to control himself. But drugs do not help in the long run. The absence of child-discipline and inappropriate methods of discipline are a major factor in crime today.

I agree with Dr. Dale Archer who said, “I’m not opposed to medication to treat those with severe symptoms, but does 1 out of every 12 kids really have ADHD?” He continues, “The National Institute of Mental Health has found that 26 percent of Americans (1 in 4) have a diagnosable psychiatric illness. The only word for that is ‘ludicrous.’”

I agree. Hyperactivity is not an abnormality, nor is it a disorder. It is simply human. We need to understand human nature; but in the process, teach children to obey and accept their responsibilities of living in society.

Hyperactivity is good and is one of the drivers of societal progress. We must help people understand that it is okay not to be normal. The CEOs of many companies have been diagnosed with ADHD, but that didn’t inhibit them from fulfilling their dreams. As Dr. Archer said, “Being different can make us exceptional.”

I recently took the ADHD test and was classified as “boarder-line ADHD.” But I found that the lowest possible rating (out of five steps) is “No ADHD likely.”

Did you understand that? That means the tests are rigged to make everyone at least suspect—thus, upping the disorder count. But that also means a mild ADHD diagnosis is normal. So, what’s the problem?

Folks, let’s train and discipline our children. Let’s teach them to be orderly and to obey. It presents greater long-term benefits than drugging them.

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.

Death Is Not Final

I read an article many years ago titled: “Was Jesus the First Psychiatrist?” I think it’s worth reading. The author mentioned that there are “300 or so [mental] disorders” that plague mankind; and discusses what he sees as the similarity of Godly teachings and the teachings of psychiatry. 

Please remember that where all Scripture is correct (2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.”), not all conclusions in the field of psychiatry and psychology are correct.

I thought long on the following statement: “People suffer to the extent that they are removed from the truth.”

That is partly true, and the reason it stuck in my mind is a conversation I had earlier with a very close friend in the southwest. His wife was nearing the end of her life, and Chuck was experiencing anger and frustration. When I mentioned that facing the truth promotes emotional healing, he blurted out, “I don’t want the truth! I want my wife to live!” I asked him if he wanted to face reality. He exclaimed “NO!”

I understood; his precious wife meant the world to him, and he didn’t want to lose her. Later, in deep depression, Chuck said several times regarding his wife’s condition, “It’s hopeless.”

Dr. Charles Allen (United Methodist minister, deceased) who received an honorary doctorate from John Brown University, and is author of “God’s Psychiatry” said, “When you say a situation or a person is hopeless, you are slamming the door in the face of God.” However, people must not give up on life, but neither should we demand what God is not giving.

Meditate on those statements.

Chuck had given me the freedom to talk bluntly with him. He knew that I loved him unconditionally, and I gave him the freedom to vent his frustrations at me without fear of reprisal or ill feelings. And I went to be with him when his wife left this life.

Later that day Chuck expressed his appreciation for my helping him to face reality, and said, “A load has been lifted from my shoulders; thank you for helping me accept the truth.” And that reflects another statement from Dr. Allen: “The mind is like the body. It can be wounded. Sorrow is a wound. It cuts deeply; but sorrow can be a clean wound and can heal unless something gets into the wound, such as bitterness, self-pity, or resentment.”

Bitterness, self-pity, and resentment oppose faith in God. I continued working with Chuck: a loving, passionate man with a tendency toward depression.

People must reawaken what they were born with: the God-given, inexplicable, ultimately undefeatable capacity to move in the direction of their own interests, abilities, beliefs and dreams. That’s why the image of Christ is such a powerful one.

It’s not wrong to ask the Lord to heal someone. In fact, it’s healthy and necessary to have a living, vital relationship with Jehovah-Raphah – the Lord who heals. Doctors, psychiatrists, and psychologists help, but God alone can ultimately heal the body and mind.

We must all remember that until Jesus returns, physical death is part of life; and for the Christian, death must not be feared for it is the door to heaven. Psalm 90:10 tells us that our lifespan will be an average of 70-80 years although individual lifetimes vary. My father lived to be eighty-nine, his father lived to ninety-nine, and my mother left this life at the age of 97. But until Jesus returns, we all will leave this life. 

Chuck was facing the reality of his wife’s immanent departure. Was the situation truly hopeless? The answer was a resounding “No.” Death is not the end of the story. Those who trust God with their lives will be given eternal life. 

Chuck’s wife left this earth, but accepting the truth had set him free. Was there sorrow? Yes, but not as others sorrow. 1 Thessalonians 4:13–14 says, “Brothers and sisters, we want you to know about those Christians who have died so you will not be sad, as others who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and that he rose again. So, because of him, God will raise with Jesus those who have died.”

Chuck will see his wife again.

Jumping at Shadows

Years ago we had a kitten that developed a special interest in life. It did the “cat thing” of chasing strings, rubbing against our legs, curling up in our laps, climbing trees, and the rest. But this critter developed the joy of jumping at and chasing shadows.

If we walked through the yard during the day or into the room at night with the lights on, and he saw our shadow, he immediately pounced on and wildly chased it, trying to nail it with his claws until the shadow disappeared. He then stopped and looked around as if to ask, “Where did it go?”

His favorite version of the game was trying to catch a shadow on the wall. You should have seen him! He would sit at the base of the wall, watching a shadow that Michael (our son) cast on the wall. Michael moved his hand up & down and in various directions, and the cat slowly – intently – focused on the ethereal object. He crouched low, quivering with pent-up energy. Then he EXPLODED straight up the wall as he grabbed at the phantom object. He did this repeatedly for five or six minutes until he tired himself out. But several hours later, he was ready for another go at it. What a critter!

Marvel (the cat) didn’t seem to know that he would never nab this prey. He didn’t know that his objective was not attainable, and he expended time and enormous amounts of energy in the process. Watching the feline focusing on and striving for something that was not attainable is entertaining and elicited gales of laughter from us. I think God revealed His sense of humor when He created cats.

But do you know that many people do the same thing? They sit at a mental wall and focus on objectives that are not attainable. They focus on what SHOULD be, or MIGHT have been. If only I had more money. If only I had married someone else. If only I had a different job. If only I were good-looking or more popular. Hundreds of If Onlys.

They also focus on what others might be thinking of them.

That reminds me of the shy student sitting alone. When the instructor asked the student if he needed assistance, the young man said, “No, but I’m wondering what those guys are thinking of me.” The instructor gently responded with, “You might be wasting your time, son; they don’t even know you are here. Why don’t you go join them?”

How about you? Do you worry and wish things were different in your life? Worry will never change anything, and changing the past is impossible; so you are wasting time and expending enormous amounts of energy. That energy is needed for the present, and worrying blocks our creativity and impedes progress. Why not use that pent-up energy to do something? Make a change now. You should remember that many times the most important change we can make is our own attitude.

In 1973 I did not like my job. Let me rephrase that: I enjoyed being an appliance repairman, but I really did not like my employer! I jumped at every opportunity imaginable trying to get another job, but to no avail. No other job opened up for me. I didn’t know that the problem was NOT my employer – it was my attitude. I didn’t realize that I had become a proud, arrogant person; and trying to change employers while exhibiting a bad or poor attitude was like jumping at shadows.

One Sunday after the church service, I spent a lengthy time in prayer. The Holy Spirit was reminding me of my attitudes, errors, faults, sins (call them what you want), and I was repenting. I did not spend time consciously changing my attitude; but when my self-consciousness decreased and my God-consciousness increased, my attitude changed as a by-product. That shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Already a Christian, I became a different person: I had stopped doing things my way and accepted God’s way. And guess what? I learned to deeply appreciate my employer. And I was surprised when I was offered another job several months later with greater potential.

Let’s stop our futile efforts of jumping at shadows. Let’s live in the present and pursue reality. That begins with reducing our self-centeredness, increasing our Christ-centeredness, deepening our relationship with God, and allowing Him to guide us. It also enhances joyful interaction with our family.

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.

What Do You Own?

Several decades ago when I was asked what I owned, I had to stop and think. I began recounting my stuff: lawn mower, chain saw, pickup truck, hand tools.… But I didn’t get very far when the missionary interrupted me and said, “You apparently didn’t understand the question.”

He asked again, slowly: “What do you own?” He said he would let me think on it for a while and walked away.

I never had the opportunity to discuss it with him again, but I pondered that question for weeks before I forgot it. However, many years later that question re-surfaced in my mind and I came up with some interesting conclusions.

The verb to own means: to possess; hold as personal property; keep control over; maintain mastery. That’s an interesting concept, and I totally revised my philosophy of ownership.

So, what do you consider to be your property? Make a mental list, and I’ll help by naming several items: clothing, car, surfboard, animals, land, business. What else came to your mind? But do you really own these things? Read the definition again.

Can you truthfully maintain mastery over something if someone can take it from you? No. If you really OWN something, no one can take it from you. Pause and think about that for a minute. Stop paying taxes on your paid-off property and find out who thinks they own it.

Now, let’s consider permanent ownership.

In Leviticus 25:23 God said, “The land really belongs to me, so you can’t sell it for all time. You are only foreigners and travelers living for a while on my land.” Remember: God created it, so the land is His.

Friends, in reality, not even the government owns anything because God maintains mastery over it all. But He requires us to be good stewards (manager, guardian, administrator) of His property.

In Psalms 50:10-11 God said, “Every animal of the forest is already mine. The cattle on a thousand hills are mine. I know every bird on the mountains, and every living thing in the fields is mine.”

Titus 1:7-9 says, “As God’s managers, overseers must not be guilty of doing wrong, being selfish, or becoming angry quickly. They must not drink too much wine, like to fight, or try to get rich by cheating others. Overseers must be ready to welcome guests, love what is good, be wise, live right, and be holy and self-controlled. They must hold on to the trustworthy word just as we teach it, because overseers can help people by applying correct teaching ….”

So God gives us abilities, talents, skills, and property; but we erroneously focus on them and too often think we own them. Friends, we don’t even own our abilities. God loans them to us, but we can lose them in a moment by accident or sickness.

How about money? In Matthew 20:8-15, God said, “I can do what I want with my money.” Even money is not ours: ever hear of a stock-market crash?

How about wisdom? In Luke 21:15, God said, “I will give you the wisdom to say things that none of your enemies will be able to stand against or prove wrong.” God owns wisdom, and God owns you. So, is there anything in the world that we can claim as our own? Yes: we are supposed to own (possess, control) our emotions. The Biblical term is temperance.

The point I am trying to make is this: you own nothing except your thoughts, your will and your emotions. God did not create robots or automatons; He created and owns people. And He expects us to use our thoughts, will, and emotions to bless and honor Him.

Let’s add another item: we own our responses to what happens in life. That means we are capable of controlling ourselves. No one can make you angry or make you happy. It’s your choice. YOU decide how you will respond.

Corrie ten Boom told a pastor some years ago: “Pastor, let go of all the things you think you own while you can. Otherwise, God will pry them out of your dying hands.”

There is nothing wrong with having things as long as we understand that we are only stewards of the things that we bought – with the money God helped us to earn. So, use things for their intended purpose and get the job done.

What do you own? You own your thoughts, will, emotions, and personal responses. And that sets the stage for owning a clear conscience with joy, peace, and contentment.

So, once again: What do you own?

Differences of Memory

“That’s not what you said before! Your memory is really getting bad, and you are always changing your story!” The disagreement had turned into a personal attack – again.

When I heard that account of the wife becoming angry at the husband’s supposed lapse of memory, I cringed. My immediate thought was, So what if he doesn’t have perfect memory? None of us do. And, why did the wife act like a tiger on the attack? Is it conceivable that her anger is a defense mechanism for her possible memory lapse?

That particular misunderstanding was regarding Scripture in John 11: Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was sick, and requested that He (Jesus) come and heal Lazarus; but Jesus waited two more days before going to Bethany. When Jesus arrived, Lazarus had been dead for four days. Jesus commanded, “Lazarus, come forth!” Some people think Jesus specified “Lazarus” so that all the other dead would not come out of their own graves.

Back to the fuss mentioned above: the wife thought the husband previously said there were others buried in the tomb with Lazarus, where the husband thought he merely mentioned the potential of other people rising from the dead. But again, so what? Does a lapse of memory – on either side – justify an attack on someone’s integrity? I don’t think so.

What is memory anyway? (Note: this article is not about Alzheimer’s.)

Memory is the process in which information is encoded, stored, and retrieved. Encoding takes place while information is received from visual, electrical, chemical, and physical stimuli. Storage, the second stage, includes maintaining information over periods of time. The third stage is the retrieval of information for conscious consideration. Some retrieval attempts may be effortless, while other attempts are difficult due to the type of information we have stored, and life’s experiences we have encountered since storing that information.

“The hippocampus, an extension of the cerebral cortex, plays a big role in storing memories, but it’s also important in recalling them.” says Ulrike Schmidt, a Head Research Coordinator, RG Leader, Managing Senior Psychiatrist at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich. Schmidt continued: “And a damaged hippocampus causes weird things to happen in the mind.”

Also, a lack of sleep often impedes memory storage; and you can’t recall what wasn’t stored.

However, as people age, a certain amount of brain atrophy – including the hippocampus – is normal. Early symptoms of hippocampal atrophy can include difficulty recalling the recent past, and can produce disorientation.

Our memories are also subject to contamination and distortion. Lawyers often fool us with suggestive questions, and false memories can easily be manufactured. And even though a woman named Jill Price became famous and inaccurately labeled as “The woman who couldn’t forget,” it has been proven that photographic memory and total recall is not 100% accurate. We all have faulty memory – some of us more than others.

Example: if five people witness an accident, we would have five differing testimonies – and all five would most-likely be at least partially correct. Nevertheless, some folk, such as Jill Price, do have excellent memory about things she continually reviews.

So, what is the key?

There is no one key. Proper nutrition, proper sleep, and especially paying attention to what you are experiencing are foundational. Your brain is where memory is stored, so take care of your brain; but that demands proper care for your entire body. The schools, training, mental disciplines, games, etc. are secondary.

Living peacefully, primarily internally, is especially important. Jesus Christ is interested in how we live because our understanding – including wisdom – determines how we mature as individuals, and how we grow in our relationship with others. A good memory aids in this endeavor. Galatians 5:22-23 briefly lists the fruit of the Spirit. They are: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”

So, control yourself, be gentle, and stop disputing or arguing. Instead, learn to discuss, but don’t be pushy or aggressive. In non-critical issues, it’s better if you don’t demand that you are right and the other is wrong. Admit that no one’s memory – yours included – is perfect, and admit that not all erroneous memories are reason for conflict. Kindly agree to disagree and preserve your relationship.

However, go ahead and work to improve your memory. And when there is a difference of memory regarding a non-critical issue, let it go. Rise above the situation; allow the other person freedom of expression. Isn’t that what you want? Who knows: it may very-well be that you both are partly correct – therefore, partly incorrect.

Don’t lock-up; lighten up. As you release tension, you create the mental and spiritual environment that makes it easier to recall the truth of the matter. Sadly, the couple mentioned above hasn’t figured that out yet. But you can if you try, and ask the Lord to help you.

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.