Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Death In Santa’s Arms

Fox news just shared a heartbreaking Christmas-related story.  His name is Eric Schmitt-Matzen who now resides in Tennessee. He plays a part-time Santa and recently told  local news outlets there about an amazing, but heartbreaking, experience he had gone through.

Apparently Matzen was called to the hospital bedside of a terminally ill little boy. He arrived just 15 minutes later. There he found a dying 5-year old child who was concerned about missing Christmas and wanted badly to see St. Nick. The stand-in Santa was given a present from the mom when he arrived that was then presented to the boy as he entered the room in full costume.

Matzen stated that the gift put a big grin on the child’s face. He then said to the boy, "When you get up those pearly gates, you just tell them you're Santa's number one elf." The child responded by asking, "I am?" The Santa responded, "You sure are and I'm sure they'll let you right in,"   To that the boy gave him a hug and asked Matzen, "Santa, can you help me?" It was at that pointed that the child passed away in the crying man’s arms.

It is hard to even fathom the emotion that must have swept over both the parents and the man who helped grant this precious child his dying wish at Christmas. Matzen stated that he was crying so hard afterwards that he was almost unable to see well enough to drive home. I’m sure he slept very little that night either.

This is a heart warming and heartbreaking story all in one. The only aspect that is off-base is the reason that the part-time Santa gave a young child for why he would be accepted into Heaven when he died. Obviously we pray that the boy is there today and for the right Biblical reasons. But if he is there, he will not have passed through  the ‘pearly gates” because he was Santa’s number one special elf.

Being admitted to heaven requires something quite specific according to the Scriptures. It has nothing to do with how one lives life or whether the good outweighs the bad. It has nothing to do with a great personality, great accomplishments or a giving and unselfish nature. It has only to do with a personal relationship with the Savior who was born in the manger and later died on the cross to pay the price of sin though His sacrifice.

Santa is a wonderful and fun addition to Christmas. He was enjoyed by many of us in our youth and by millions of children world-wide. But he is simply not real. And he should never interfere, or be confused, with the Christ of Christmas. Only God's Son can give the ultimate gift of all gifts and the one we all equally need. Only he can provide the gift of eternal salvation and the opening of the so-called pearly gates to those who trust in Him through faith.
Christ is what Christmas is all about!  That should be obvious. And after all is said and done, it is not primarily about happy holidays, seasons greetings or happy Solstice. It is simply about ‘Merry CHRISTmas’.

“And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21)

Bill Breckenridge

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Not Tolerating Charlie Brown?

A recent article from revealed a story that has become all too common at Christmas time. It occurred in a nation that supposedly craves tolerance for everyone’s views on almost everything, that is, give or take Christianity. It is still hard to fathom how a holiday that bears Christ’s name can be attacked and pushed out of the public arena even by those who participate in it and gladly take the free day off of work it provides them.

This time the nonsense revolved around one of the oldest and most beloved Christmas TV shows of all time. And is not the first time that "A Charlie Brown Christmas" has caused holiday controversy. This year it was the Independent School District in Killeen, Texas that helped portray the ugly and ridiculous part of the infamous Grinch.

Dedra Shannon, a staffer at Patterson Middle School, decided to use the program’s images of Linus, the scrawny Christmas tree and the classic Bible passage to decorate the door to the school’s nurse office.  The decorations were installed on December 5th.  But two days later she was confronted by the school's principal and told that the decorations had to be removed. The stated reason was exactly the same as always. The Bible passage might offend those of another religion or those having none at all. And as expected, it was said that the display was a violation of the Constitution’s so-called separation of church and state. That’s amazing since that is a faulty assumption and no such thing really exists.

Ms. Shannon was told, however, that she could keep Linus and the tree on the door but the Bible passage had to be removed. Given that option, she took the entire poster down and stated, "I wasn't going to leave Linus and the Christmas tree without having the dialogue. That's the whole point of why it was put up." Ms. Shannon's pastor father said of the incident, "People want us to be tolerant for everything – but they don't tolerate Christianity, They bow down to everything else – except when it comes to Christianity." How tragic but how very right he was!

Efforts to curtail the real meaning of Christmas, and everything Christian for that matter, are nothing new. The attacks have intensified and the opposition may even seem to have gained ground over time in an increasingly secularized society. But none of that can change the deep meaning and power of the Biblical truth echoed by little Linus on air some 51 years ago.

“And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Luke 2:9-14

Christmas will always be an offense to those who don’t, or won’t, accept it for what it really is. Why is that?  It is because the coming of Christ to that messy manger in the long ago pointed to something in His future that would be infinitely more messy! His arrival in human flesh pointed to His destiny of dying upon the cross. He came to deal with the sins of humanity and that is offensive to those who feel no need for a Savior or the forgiveness He alone can provide.  Luke 19:10 states it like this.“The Son of man has come to seek and save that which was lost.” 

The reality is, like it or not and believe it or not, that The Prince of Peace came to earth the first time to save sinners. And He is coming a second time to gather up all who have trusted Him and to be will Him forever in heaven. That is going to happen and perhaps very soon. And no amount of rejecting or ignoring that fact will ever change it. Trying to remove or hinder God’s word at Christmas, or at any time, is a senseless and futile endeavor as clearly confirmed in 1 Peter 1:24-25.

"All flesh is as grass,
And all the glory of man as the flower of the grass.
The grass withers,
And its flower falls away,
But the word of the LORD endures forever”

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Post-election Thanksgiving?

It has been a rough few weeks for a many in America if their candidate was not elected to the Presidency back on November 8th. The outcome of that historic event again revealed just how divided the nation really is when it comes to politics and the direction that the county and culture should take. Some are simply so distraught, even still, that that they are unable to move forward after seeing their choice for the White House lose.

I heard on a TV news show how, in some in colleges, students who seem unable accept the election result are receiving special attention. Some have gotten time off from classes and counseling if they need it. Others have been given coloring books, told to get therapy pets and even told to use play dough to relieve their tension over facing a Trump Presidency.  A panel on a talk show I watched discussed the strategy of how to get through Thanksgiving and avoid politics if there is a serious rift within a family. Add to this the countless individuals in neighborhoods and work places where people can’t even be civil to each other because of the friction over the way the election turned out. Then there are others who are actively opposing the new administration and even looking for legal loopholes to somehow overturn it. Such is the political and cultural climate in current day America. And maybe it is just me, but that seems just a little over the top - all things considered and when still living in America.

But some sixteen days after the nation was again painfully reminded of their divided political and cultural loyalties, we find ourselves at another Thanksgiving holiday. We find ourselves all still living in the greatest nation on earth no matter who happens to reside in the Oval Office. We all find ourselves to be the beneficiaries of freedoms, blessings and opportunities that most around the world can only marvel at and envy. And for these things, and more, we should be the most grateful people on the planet instead of hiding under the covers in our pajamas and molding play dough for the next 4 years!

The Bible specifically commands believers to be thankful on a consistent basis. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 we read Paul’s words on the subject. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing,  in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” The word ‘you’ at the end of the verse is directed at all believers regardless of their political affiliation. And when times of stress and worry do arise, constant prayer coupled with thanksgiving is the preferred solution as Philippians chapter four reveals. Verse 6 begins, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

As this Thanksgiving holiday comes, and quickly goes, we trust that those of us who enjoy the blessings of living where we do will pause and acknowledge our great and loving Creator.  To not do so, especially for those who have been forgiven and redeemed through His Son, is unthinkable as well as unbiblical. Take time this year to make thanksgiving to God a daily attitude and lifestyle - and not just something casually done on a single November afternoon of family, food and football!

“Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.” Ps 118:2

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A New President. Now What?

The 2016 Presidential election was amazing on many levels. First, there was the potential of the first woman President in U.S. history. And there was also the reality of a fully political Washington outsider, Donald Trump, becoming the 45th President of the United States. And as we know, that is exactly what occurred. Although the results are final, many issues and questions yet remain. And perhaps the foremost of these is the one everyone is still asking - and will for some time to come: What in the world happened to the polls that all had Hillary Clinton winning the office?

Some have declared that many of Trump's unexpected votes came from higher numbers of the minority vote than in the past few elections. It appears at this point that he fared better than expected in this sphere while his opponent did not do quite as well as did the current President did. But what many have seen as highly significant was the support Mr. Trump received from a group that was originally thought to be a potential problem for his candidacy. This was spelled out in the Christian Post article as follows:

Prominent evangelical author Johnnie Moore says conservative Christians concerned about the future of religious liberty and the protection of the unborn were the driving force behind President-elect Donald Trump's surprisingly successful 2016 campaign. Moore, a former senior vice president at Liberty University and a well-respected evangelical humanitarian, spoke with the The Christian Post on Wednesday to offer his thoughts on the impact that the nonprofit organization My Faith Votes had on encouraging the nearly 25 million evangelical voters who stayed home in the last two elections to come out and cast their ballots this time around.

My Faith Votes, a nonpartisan organization whose honorary national chairman is Dr. Ben Carson, was highly active over the last eight months producing television and radio public service announcements that ran in over 110 million households across the United States and urged Christians to follow through on their civic duty to vote. As exit polling numbers show, a greater percentage of white evangelicals voted for Trump than they did for the two previous Republican nominees and President George W. Bush in 2004, According to exit polls, 81 percent of self-identified white evangelical or white born-again Christian voters said they voted for Trump and just 16 percent of those voters said they voted for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. 

The biggest factors that led more evangelicals to vote for Trump, Moore said, were their concern for religious liberty and Clinton's radical stance on partial-birth and late-term abortions. The spokesperson for the organization told Christian Post that there is no question that My Faith Votes played an "indispensable role" in the 2016 election.

If what Mr. Moore, and others, claim is a large reason for why Trump prevailed on November 8th, then perhaps the reality of the well-known verse in 2 Chronicles 7:14 has come into play. Maybe God’s people humbled themselves, prayed and sought His face when it came to going to the polls and then casting their vote as they felt led. Some may bristle at that notion, but that will not change what may have happened.

But now part two of the election equation is set before these particular voters. And it even applies to the 16% of self-proclaimed white evangelicals who may not have voted for Donald Trump. It is found in the New Testament book of 1Timothy chapter 2. In verses 1-4, the Apostle Paul writes, “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

This verse means more than it might seem to on the surface especially when considering the context. When Paul instructed Christians back then to pray fervently for kings and all in authority, his words came at a terrible time in church history. Few today give much thought to the kind of leaders and government that believers were living under back then. They were firmly under the heel of the harsh Roman Empire. This is something that those of us living in a free modern day America cannot even conceive of. At times, it was brutal beyond description. And yet, even in that kind of atmosphere, the command came from God to pray for all, live in peace and even to give thanks!

And then, too, Paul added yet another command that must have been beyond difficult for those living when the New Testament was penned. I wonder what my response would have been to this one as well had I lived at that time and under those conditions?  Romans chapter 13 begins, "Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.” Again, imagine reading these words when they were first written while living in the Roman Empire? And yet God was concerned about the attitude and conduct of His people even when those who ruled over them were far from good and just.

When thinking of this scenario in the early church, it is hard to grasp the attitude and actions by some in America today to the election. As far as I know, none of them will be thrown to the lions or into a primitive dungeon by the new administration. So perhaps there needs to be some balance and reconsideration of the blessings of living where they do and under a governing body that was freely elected.

A new administration will soon begin in Washington including a new cabinet and scores of appointments. And the command for those who make up the church in America is to support them through prayer while living God-honoring lives. And why is that so very crucial? First, it is because God has told us to. Also, it is because of what He stated in the above passage. It is to allow us to live a quiet and peaceable life while maintaining an atmosphere that provides the opportunity for others "to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” This is what Paul described as “good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.”

As the election confirmed, America remains a deeply divided nation on almost every imaginable front. But the best way to change and temper that is to achieve a supernatural harmony – something that is possible only when people are united under the banner of Christ and live by the principles clearly outlined in the word of God.

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Is Trump Good For America?

Recently someone sent me an article asking the question, "Is Trump Good For America?" The piece was supposedly authored by Dr. James Dobson, but I could not find any evidence to back up that claim. So perhaps his name was added to simply give the article some gravitas. But I did see it almost word for word on a Facebook page. Whether or not this represented the one who originally authored it, I have no idea. But despite who penned it, what I read was interesting and did offer some ideas on the election before us.

The basic premise had to do with the suitability of Donald Trump to be the next President should he preside over Mrs. Clinton come Election Day. It spoke about the Republican nominee’s shortcomings such as his demeanor, questionable moral character and his overall views, some of which have not exactly matched up well with many voting evangelicals.

But the author pointed out that, as imperfect as this man may well be, there are times when that can be seen as secondary. He stated that God has often used very imperfect leaders to meet the most critical needs of the hour. His great illustration was England’s Winston Churchill during World War 2. This legendary figure was not exactly the gentle, sweet and moral type. He was often crude and overbearing. And yet it was Churchill who was brought into power when the scourge of Hitler arose. He was one of the key figures who became essential in stemming the tide of evil that was threatening to enslave the entire world.

The author of the blog post put it this way about Churchill.
He had exactly what was needed to stop Hitler at the Channel, to rouse a nation to never give up and to partner with America to find final victory in Europe. You probably wouldn't want him as your pastor, maybe not even your father, but he was the right leader for that moment in England's history.” That illustration could be a positive side when considering a vote for Donald Trump, or anyone for that matter, even if they be far from one’s liking for the office.

But this same question about Trump then came up again just a few days ago through a short online video sent to me by a good Christian friend. When I watched the brief piece, the speaker offered the total opposite take than the one used in the Churchill illustration. In a nutshell, he cited how Christians should never accept any lesser of two evils at the ballot box! He was quite strong in declaring that there is no valid reason to select anyone who does not tow the line as far as Biblical principles are concerned – no matter what is at stake. Maybe he had a passage like Ephesians 5:11 in mind? “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.”  And with that conviction in mind, he challenged anyone to cast their vote for anyone who does not outwardly adhere to what God stresses in His word - period!

As I read these two contrasting views, I admit finding some merit in both. There is no doubt that without Churchill’s rising to power when he did the Nazis may well have succeeded in Europe and then ultimately subdued the entire world. And had they done so, we might not even be holding a free election next week. Who knows what would have become of America had Hitler prospered? And think of the impact that would have made on Christian evangelism worldwide. I was reminded of the incident in the book of Daniel and a striking statement found in chapter 4. There the prophet declares, “The Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses." God allowed the gifts of an imperfect Churchill to help bring a Hitler down.

God giving kingdoms to those He sometimes does can be extremely hard to understand when looking at the many corrupt and destructive leaders who have caused untold suffering and destruction down through the centuries. But the fact remains that He is sovereign. He does not make mistakes! And He sometimes uses people that we may not like or agree with in order to achieve His precise purposes even in a fallen world. Any doubt about this great truth can be seen in a passage like Ephesians 1:11. Paul writes, “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will.”

The choices available on this Election Day may be far from what we might prefer. They certainly are for me this time around. There were some candidates, early on in the process, who lined up with my views and beliefs far more than what is now being offered. But that is now political water under the bridge. At this juncture, we all have to decide what we will do or not do on the 8th. And do remember that we are voting for a party platform and not only an individual.

Whatever that decision may be, it must be made with full conviction. It must be made with a clear conscience. And it must be one bathed in fervent prayer and with the unwavering confidence that, however it all turns out, God is still sovereign on November 8, 2016 and that "He rules in the affairs of men." 

And, if by chance, the outcome of the election this coming week is not to your liking, or even worse, downright frightening in your mind, then take the blessed advice offered by the sovereign God of all peace found in Philippians 4:8-9.

"Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you."

Bill Breckenridge