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

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Matthew: More Horror In Haiti

The storm itself is long gone and was one for the record books. And according to CoreLogic, a research and consulting firm, the cost of the storm economically will come in at about $6 billion for insured losses for both residential and commercial properties. Then there are uninsured damages to consider as well. And that does not even count losses related to additional continued flooding and business interruptions. So the total economic damage at this point is still undetermined as the cleanup continues.
But what has been shockingly absent in the discussion of this monster storm is what happened before Hurricane Matthew reached the U.S. Without question the destruction, especially in the Carolinas, was significant.  And that could have been far worse had the storm gone farther inland and not slowed from its previous Category 4 strength. That was anything but the case when Mathew tore through Haiti first – the poorest nation in the entire hemisphere. The damage there was simply staggering. Satellite photos were reminiscent of Katrina or even some shots of Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was dropped there in World War II. A huge number of the structures in this struggling country are literal shacks and the kind of fragile buildings that would be hard to even find in America.

Just a few years back, an earthquake struck the country causing unfathomable damage and loss of life. An estimated three million people were affected by the quake and death toll estimates ranged from 100,000 to 160,000 or more! An estimated 250,000 residences and 30,000 commercial buildings collapsed or were severely damaged. And I heard on the news that, as Matthew approached, that some 40,000 were still living in tents from the killer quake. That is simply hard to wrap your mind around when living in a place like America.

But now this battered nation is again in even more trouble than it already was. This new devastation has been called "apocalyptic" by some. And it was what would be expected with a storm like this in a place like that. The death toll is well over 1,000 and climbing. At least 1.4 million people need serious and live-saving assistance at this time. Some towns and villages have been wiped off the map. Crops and food reserves have been destroyed. Some 300 schools have been damaged, and the fears of a deadly cholera outbreak, similar to what occurred after the 2010 earthquake, are growing.

But what compounds an already tragic situation is what occurred as that the storm stuck full force in an area known as the "bread basket" of Haiti. Now keep that in perspective when considering that Haiti is one of the poorest nations on the planet, and then factor in that some are projecting that 80-90% of the crops in this critical region were damaged or totally wiped out. It is simply hard to fathom this happening to a people who struggled to put food on their tables even before the storm. But what can we do about the carnage and suffering right now?

Perhaps the first answer to that question is simply care – really care (Romans 12:15). That may take some effort since we live where we do and have all that we have. Secondly, we should at least pray. Pray for the people so badly brutalized yet again. Pray for those who are Christians there that they can share their faith with those who have no hope even while they themselves face an indescribable crisis. And lastly, pray. Pray that the world steps up to the plate and gives of their excess to help fund relief organizations like Samaritans Purse to meet both material and spiritual needs in the ravaged nation in the name of Christ. (Galatians 6:10)

"Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?  When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You?  Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?'  And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.'” (Matt.  25:37-40)

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

New York City’s Oldest Church

Manhattan's oldest church is getting ready to celebrate its 250-year history, which includes worshippers ranging from George Washington to those who searched for victims following the attacks back on 9/11.
Today, St. Paul's Chapel in Lower Manhattan is best known today as the "Little Church that Stood". This title arose after the structure survived unscathed as the World Trade Center towers crumbled across the street back on 9/11. The church was built in 1766 and has been recently renovated. The unveiling will come on its anniversary date, which falls on October 30th. The Chapel is Manhattan's last remaining colonial structure and also houses the oldest monument in New York – one dedicated to American revolutionary war hero, Gen. Richard Montgomery.

When I saw this story, and the age of this historic structure, my interest was immediately piqued for many reasons. First of all, I recall standing in front of this church exactly one year after 9/11 and participating in a special ministry outreach there. Our team literally stood on street corners offering to pray with anyone who was willing and especially with those still struggling with the events that had occurred there one year prior.

But my interest was also because of something occurring very recently. My present church just began holding services in a brand new location, but this is happening in a very old placevery old indeed. The original congregation began way back in 1720. That means that there are just a few years shy of being in existence for 300 years!  I did say old, did I not? The current building, located just a half a mile away form the original, was erected in 1804. It is always intriguing to walk into a sanctuary of that vintage and ponder how many lives have been impacted for Christ in a place that has been in existence since before the nation was even officially born.

But there are scores of beautiful and historic churches located across the country. When driving most anywhere, steeples can be seen rising into the sky from small quiet country communities to busy large cities everywhere. They serve as a reminder of America’s great spiritual foundation and the faith that has been such a deep part of her inner fiber.

And yet, despite what most people think of when they hear the word "church", the Bible primarily refers to something other than these familiar physical structures. Scripture speaks to the church in two primary ways. First it speaks to the universal church in passages like Ephesians 1:22-23. Paul writes, "And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all." This aspect of the church refers to all who are in the family of God through personal faith in Christ regardless of where they reside.

Then there are the local churches referred to throughout the New Testament. Some of these have epistles named after them. These were literal local congregations who met together at specific places and times when the New Testament was being penned. An example would be seen in 1 Corinthians 1:2. "To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus." Again, these were group of true believers who gathered together to worship, fellowship and serve their Lord and Savior.

So the term "church" is used commonly in three distinct ways. There are the physical buildings, such as the historic ones just referred to. There are the local congregations comprised of individual believers who meet at a specific place, even if they have no formal structure at their disposal. And then there is the universal church made up of all true born-again Christians everywhere on earth. So which of the these matters most?

The bottom line is that physical church buildings come and go. How many from the 1700s still exist today like the ones we spoke of at the outset? Local congregations also do not last forever despite how vibrant, valuable and effective they may have been. Most all of the local church bodies addressed in the New Testament no longer exist today.

What matters first and foremost is not what building we meet in and whether it is historic or brand spanking new. The reason that is true is because we may be an active part of a local congregation, meeting in a wonderful structure, and yet have that be fully meaningless in the final analysis. All that really matters is that we have, at some point, trusted Christ as our own Savior. He is the head of the universal churchthe one made up of all who are spiritually born into His family through faith alone. And being a "church member" in this realm is what justifies the lost sinner and opens the door to heaven at life’s end.

Beautiful church buildings, old and new, are indeed a blessing. And belonging to a Bible-believing congregation is a great privilege and responsibility. But if you have never joined the church that is Christ’s universal body, you need to do that now! Simply trust in His ability to forgive sin and accept you into His eternal family. Do just as did the thief that died beside the Lord on the cross. In the very moment this lost soul recognized Christ as deity and trusted Him for salvation, he was granted forgiveness and his place in heaven forever. (Luke 23:43-44) That alone is what it is all about and alone brings the kind of blessing and church membership that lasts for all eternity!

"And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence." (Col 1:18)

Bill Breckenridge