Wednesday, December 12, 2018

What Are Your Christmas Traditions?

It is the Christmas season once again. And for so very many it really is the most wonderful time of the year. It just somehow feels magical due to the decorations, lights, gifts, festivities and all the rest.

But Christmas is celebrated by most Christians on December 25 and it commemorates the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Americans, like many around the world, have developed their own traditions and observances - many of which have changed greatly over time.

Today, most Americans blend religious and secular customs with their own family traditions. There is typically the incorporating food, decorations and rituals often from the places of their roots. Meals like roast turkey and ham are perhaps the most popular But depending on the region, so are tamales, roast goose with red cabbage, crawfish jambalaya, roast pork or “seven fishes” seafood salad. Many of course hang stockings somewhere or other. And then of course there are those wonderful, though highly predictable, Hallmark channel movies that always have a happy and romantic ending with snow suddenly falling at the conclusion almost every time! Don't tell me you have not noticed that one.

In the Southwest, lanterns made from brown paper bags and  weighted down with sand and illuminated by a lit candle, are displayed on Christmas Eve. Many Mexican Americans celebrate a procession that re-enacts Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to bed down in Bethlehem. And Swedish Americans hold St. Lucia festivals.  Other Christmas traditions  began during the 19th century. Santa Claus assumed the person of a jolly dispenser of gifts and pilot of a legendary reindeer driven sleigh. And Germany is credited with starting the tradition of Christmas trees in the16th century Yes, there are many different Christmas traditions and more than we would expect when we look around the world.

But with that said, and despite how special and enjoyable these all may be, non of them should take the spotlight off of what the holiday is really about. It represents the ‘incarnation’ of Christ which basically means the Creator-God becoming literal human flesh and the God-man. That is something that is impossible for mere mortals to fully grasp. But it is a truth that put into motion God’s great plan of redemption that would be later be fulfilled on a Roman cross where the babe of Bethlehem became the sacrifice for the sins of humanity. This is part two of Christ's coming. But it is the aspect many decide not to deal with or celebrate as it is not nearly as pleasant and fun as this holiday this arrives before it!

One common tradition for many is watch the classic seasonal program called 'A Charlie Brown Christmas'. Although the cartoon was produced for mere peanuts, no pun intended, it pushed all tradition aside briefly and clearly got to the heart of the matter. That climaxed when little Linus stepped onto a stag and shared with a struggling depressed Charlie Brown exactly what the holiday was all about. To do so he simply stated, verbatim, the words as Scripture reveales in Luke 2:8-14.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 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 Savior, 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."  Jesus Christ entered time and humanity to be our Savior!

I trust you will enjoy to the max whatever traditions you have come to love at this most unique and significant time of the year. But if you have never developed any that somehow include, and expand upon, what Linus shared, then perhaps insert something special along those lines this year. Take some time to add some moments that focus only on the incarnation and precisely why God's Son humbled himself and came in the form of frail human flesh. Focus in on why we can be forgiven and spend eternity with Him in heaven! That is what truly matters most. And that is what can be far more inspiring and meaningful than even the most lovely of traditions we may ever observe!

“But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5)

Bill Breckenridge









Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Essence of Thanks

In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 we read these rather direct words. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  These three things are not at all easy to do. In fact, the exact opposite is often the case. And yet there they are. But it is that third phrase that seems almost impossible to achieve at times. One study on this passage was titled, Three Impossible Commands. If Paul had only said, “Rejoice a lot, pray often, and try to be thankful,”  maybe we could say, “Okay, I’ll try to do that!” But that is not what it says is it?

First, we must recognize, and take seriously, that these admonitions are said to be “God’s will for us”. And we must realize that these things must be possible because that is what He desires of us. The passage says that we are ‘in Christ Jesus’. That means we possess His indwelling Holy Spirit who alone can provide the spiritual strength and ability to do anything that God spells out for us.

But at Thanksgiving time, it is that third thing that stands out. ‘In everything give thanks’. Can that really mean what it says?  Think of some of the things you are ‘in’ right now or that others you know are ‘in’. And think of some of the things that those we don’t even know are ‘in’ who reside in very difficult places in the world. Some of what God’s people face simply defies description. But these words seem to be for all in His faith family regardless of their lot in life.

We need to realize that we are not to be thankful ‘for’ all things. That would seem a bit much. We are not thankful for sin, wickedness or evil in the world. And we are not thankful when we somehow fail our Lord. And are we be thankful when a devastating  medical test comes back, when the pink slip from the job is received, when a spouse has run off, when a child is missing or there is the loss of a home? There are things that we are not normally thankful ‘for’. But we are told to be thankful ‘in’ them non the less.

Maybe it has something  to do with another parallel passage that speaks about thanksgiving.
Philippians 4:6-7 says,  ‘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.’

Don’t become anxious. But rather pray when hard times come and do so with a spirit of thanks! Not being thankful is at the core of the unregenerate heart according to Romans 1:21. And the opposite is to be true of those who have been saved and are in Christ. They are to remain thankful even ‘in;’ the midst of trails and troubles - no matter how severe or how long they last. The bottom line is that it is abnormal for Christians to not be thankful. But God’s will is that they stay thankful for their blessings and especially those that are spiritual and cannot be impacted by what goes on in a fallen world. The believer's thanks is to be on a higher plane that those who do not know God and the blessings He alone bestows.

Is this sometimes difficult? Of course it is. But it remains God’s will for us. And His indwelling Spirit enables us the victory and thus grants us the peace that passes understanding - no matter what we are 'in' at any given moment!  And that alone is something to be extremely greatly thankful for!

“Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, And for His wonderful works to the children of men!  For He satisfies the longing soul, And fills the hungry soul with goodness.”
Psalm 107:8-9

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Biblical Salvation Beliefs On The Decline

Over the last several decades core religious beliefs in America have changed dramatically. And what many now believe may well shock you.  It is no secret to anyone paying even minor attention that the spiritual and religious tone of the nation has been in flux for a good while now. And it is not trending in a positive direction. Several decades ago there were at least some Biblical standards and norms.  But that has changed, and in some areas, quite significantly over time.

Today there seems to be an almost 'anything goes’ mentality as long as  one critical qualification is met. In other words, if we are at least really ‘sincere’ about what we say we believe, then all is well and God will ultimately accept us. Many feel that all will be just fine in the end and all will be forgiven when push comes to shove. And anyone who rejects that notion is now seen as being narrow-minded and judgmental.

I recently saw two articles that spoke to this and pointed out significant aspects of a growing spiritual problem in America. First, there was an article that appeared at www.christianpost.com. The study sited there was from Lifeway Research and part of their 2018 State of Theology. The survey interviewed some 3,000 Americans about various Biblical beliefs. But on one supremely critical subject it revealed this. "God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. " It was shown that 51 percent of respondents agreed with that premise.  That is without question shocking, at least to me.  I can’t imagine numbers like that had this same question been asked even 3-4 decades ago.

But as troubling as this all is, it does not represent an isolated trend.  Consider these findings from the same research.  "A majority, as in about 78%, of so-called evangelicals now believe that most people are basically good by nature and that Jesus was the first and greatest being 'created' by God the Father. So now it appears that a majority feel that man is by basically good and Jesus was not fully God from eternity past but rather a created being? And keep in mind that it was Evangelicals here who provided this data and those who should be at least familiar with basic Biblical truth.

And if this has not made you wonder what this has happened, and how it has happened so quickly, there was another article found along side of the one just mentioned.  The title this time used these alarming words. 'Why Jesus Is No Longer the Only Way for Many American Christians'.  And then add this. Just 10 years ago, a Pew Research Center Study found that more than half of all American Christians believe that at least some non-Christian faiths can lead to salvation. Again, that is simply stunning!

What we are basically seeing today is an overall erosion of the very foundation of the traditional Christian faith. And the question arises as to why and there are numerous reasons. But one prominent cause is something that has become sacred and almost a religion of its own in America today – namely tolerance. Tolerance is demanded in just about every area of culture today with one notable exception. And that exception is the acceptance of any consistent and unwavering conviction concerning sound Biblical doctrine and viewpoints.  Anything and everything else pretty much gets a pass.   But the reality is that the principles of God’s Word are indeed quite specific and exclusive when dealing with redemption and how one can be made fully justified with God.

When people come to the conclusion that there are many ways to heaven, and that Jesus is just one of them, that simply means that they do not hold to the ultimate source of God’s truth as revealed in Scripture.  That has always puzzled me, especially when I hear of surveys where people state that they believe the Bible to be God’s word, but then they pick and choose those things they want to accept or reject within its pages. Once we come to the conclusion and feel we have the right to exclude those things we’d rather not deal with, then where does that kind of thinking end?  How can we then believe anything fully that Scripture teaches without any doubts?

But for those who believe God’s word is His full and perfect revelation to humanity, what does it actually say along these same lines?  First,  we need to look at how it describes itself.  In 2 Tim 3:16 we read, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God."  That mean that the Bible is ‘God breathed’ and that it is fully His exact mind in print.  2 Peter 1:20-21 adds this. “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation,  for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.’" And Hebrews 4:12 speaks to the  power and ability of Scripture alone, “For the word of God is living and powerful , and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit.”

The Bible is not some human book filled with truths, half-truths, errors or  only a collection of polite and helpful suggestions. It is God’s full and flawless revelation to mankind - all of it!!

But once we believe that all Scripture is inspired and fully accurate, then it is not hard to see the serious problems with many current views of God accepting worship from other religions or Jesus not being the only way to be saved. Actually, the Bible is perhaps more clear on these issue than on anything else – and for good reason!  I don’t know where you stand on this subject today. But if you are confused or unaware, consider these verses just for starters.

In 1 John 5:11-12 we read,  “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.  He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have lifeThen add to that these very exclusive words in Acts 4:11-12.  “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."  And that name there is Jesus – period.. Or this one. John 14:6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

Yes, the Word of God leaves little doubt that the Creator does not accept other ways to be reconciled to Him. He devised, in eternity past, that His Son would be the lone sacrifice for human sin and the only way for man to be justified. His plan is perfect and it is exclusive. Our part is to simply accept what He has offered and not be searching for some alternative path that is easier or seems to better meet our personal preferences. And we pray today that you have trusted Christ as the only way, truth and life and that you have been born into God’s family through His specified mean – by faith alone in His Son!

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."  John 3:16

Bill Breckenridge

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Pastor Brunson Finally Freed

His name is Andrew Craig Brunson,  an  America pastor  and whose name came to prominence back in October of 2016. It was then that he was arrested in Turkey after a coup attempt there. Brunson was pastoring a small protestant church of about 25 congregants when he was accused of taking part in a coup attempt and being involved with American espionage among other things. It was claimed that he was interested in overthrowing the Turkish government and that he also supposedly helped plan the coup.

Andrew Brunson is from Black Mountain, North Carolina and attended a church there that Franklin Graham once did  He is married and has three children and had lived in Turkey for 23 years until being arrested. His wife was also arrested alongside him, but was released 13 days days later.  He reportedly had lost over 50 pounds while in the prison but was later moved to house arrest on July 25, 2018. The trial caused a major diplomatic rift between the United States and Turkey and resulted in U.S. economic sanctions being placed on that nation.

But his ordeal is now finally over with after great pressure was exerted against Turkey by the Trump administration. It was described as a combined bipartisan effort, but it appears that the President had a major role in securing the wronged American pastor’s freedom.

If you had opportunity to witness  the scene in the White House after Brunson’s return to the U.S.,  you know that it was a  touching  scene and one that will not be easily forgotten. He was sitting next to The President. His wife and family was on his right and the other guests, made up of political and religious leaders, sat on the other side to the President’s left. And at one point he was asked if he had any additional comments. It was then when the pastor somewhat shocked just about everyone in the room and maybe across the country. He looked at  Mr Trump and said this and I quote: “We would like to pray for you. We pray for you often as a family. My wife and I pray for you.  The President responded  ‘We thank you. I probably need it more than anyone you know. So that would be very nice. Thank you’

With that the pastor got up from his seat, knelt down on the carpet and placed his left hand of the left shoulder of the President and began with these exact  words. “Lord God, I ask you that You pour our your Holy Spirit on President Trump, that you give him supernatural wisdom,  that you accomplish all the plans you have for this county with him.  I ask that you give him wisdom on how to lead this country into righteousness.  I ask that you give him perseverance and endurance and courage to stand for truth  I ask that you protect him from enemies and those would undermine.  I ask that your would make him a great blessing to this nation. Fill him with your wisdom and  perseverance.  and we bless him. May he be a great blessing to our country.  In Jesus name, amen”

I’m sure you were stunned and inspired at these words going out from the White House if this is the first time that you heard them.  But to actually visually witness this pastor on his knees before the whole world, and praying for the President after what this man had gone through for two full years, was just beyond description. But there were a few things that came to mind  that I’d like to briefly express on the event.

First, I was reminded yet again of the words in 2 Timothy chapter 3, with the context being the perilous last days before the return of Jesus Christ.  After describing the brutal conditions of that time, the  author wrote in verse 12, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution “ And pastor Brunson certainly knows those words and personally experienced them.  Living a good honest life is of course commendable. But as soon as the name Christ comes into the equation for doing so, then persecution is not far behind. And this raises a sobering question for all who claim to be followers of Christ.  If we never suffer ever suffer even minor grief for our faith, then do we have any real testimony at all before the world? Again that should be a wake up call for us all.

Secondly, I was reminded that sometimes we are allowed to suffer in order to glorify God’s name and work. Had this pastor never experienced what he did, he would never have become someone who is now known around the world and someone who was given the opportunity to do and say what he did in the White House in front of the entire nation and world. Millions who may not know His Savior have now seen what a committed victorious Christian believer is capable of, and can endure, with the help of His Lord.

And lastly, we can see in this event was something that relates closely to whole matter outlined  in 1 Timothy2:2.  There we read, “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."
 
When you look at this passage, we see no mention of praying for any specific political party, side  or philosophy. It speaks of praying for ‘all’ who are in positions of high leadership. There are no other specifications mentioned. And just think for a moment of who received this original letter and the oppression they were living under at the time. This admonition must have surprised most  in that day and I’m sure it is not an easy thing even today for some in our own nation.

But the reasons are clearly provided as to why we are commanded to do this. It enables us to live what is called quiet and peaceable lives. And even more importantly, it is good and acceptable to God and even seems in the context to relate to some perhaps coming to the knowledge of salvation as well through our testimony.

There has been a lot of very rough and discouraging news in the last month or so. The country suffered the stress of a brutal supreme court nomination that further divided the nation. And now we face the critical mid-term elections as well. And then there came  the two quick and brutal Hurricanes, first Florence and then Michael, that absolutely devastated large areas in the south from Florida to the Carolina's.

But with all of that aside,  it was refreshing to witness the story of this dedicated Christian servant, who was persecuted while serving his Lord oversees. His response and actions, in the midst of insane struggles, revealed the reality of His faith and the reality of the God who sustained him through it all. And this should encourage us all as believers - when we are reminded in such a mighty way that our God will never leave nor forsake us and that He is always safe to trust  no matter what may come.

Bill Breckenridge

Friday, October 12, 2018

Kavanaugh: Guilty Until Proven Innocent?

It was one of the most unbelievable spectacles on the American political scene in recent memory.   This time it was not about electing someone to some high office. But it was about a vote. And of course we speak about the recent confirmation hearing of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. He was the second judge offered up by President Trump. But this time around his pick was not for a replacement as was his first. This time, the next  potential judge would be the likely swing vote for many crucial cultural decisions in the years and even decades ahead.

But as has almost become standard operating procedure, a woman suddenly appeared not long before the vote was scheduled and made allegations that Judge Kavanaugh had tried to sexually assault her some 37 years earlier. And of course this tactic has been seen before and the name Clarence Thomas is all most need to hear.

But when Kavanaugh’s accuser did get her chance to tell her story it became quickly obvious, except to Democrats, that her claim did not seem to have much real evidence or proof. She could not recall crucial details and nobody really could confirm what she said. Plus, the judge had been exposed to some 6 previous FBI checks in the past and nothing at all surfaced that would indicate this kind of behavior on his part. If his accuser did suffer what she claimed, that is indeed terrible. But it seemed quite clear that the potential high court judge was the one who was guilty in whatever did occur. Legal experts said that, based on such skimpy evidence, that most courts would not even agree to hear this case in the first place with the evidence offered up.

But as we all now know, Kavanaugh was eventually confirmed by a vote of 50 to 48. But what we also know is that the vote came down almost exclusively along party lines. How shocking! This would have been the case anyway most likely just based on what each party had at stake.. But what was so troubling this time was that those on the left wanted the nominee to step down because they 'assumed' he was guilty of the flimsy charge against him from three plus decades earlier.

That is not how the American system of justice has been through history. It is based on the assumption of innocence until proven guilty. The key word there being proven!  So this new concept, as seen with the Kavanaugh situation,  was downright scary to say the least. Can anyone’s life now be destroyed by a simple unproven allegation? I have jury duty coming in about a month. And if I am put on a case, my philosophy will be 'innocent until proven guilty' -  beyond the shadow of a doubt. And that is what I would expect from my peers if I were on trial.

But recently I was reminded of something quite profound when thinking about this whole national ordeal that we all just experienced. While innocent until proven guilty should always be the norm in our justice system, it came to me that in the spiritual realm it is the exact opposite. In order to experience forgiveness and salvation, we must first admit our sin and full guilt before God. He requires that before He can extend His saving grace that is found through faith is His son’s sacrifice for us all on the cross. And when anyone cries out for God’s mercy in that manner, then He can render that man or woman as fully justified and seen as innocent in Christ. In other words, we admit to being fully guilty and  only then we can be rendered no longer guilty.

Without question,  it goes against our human grain to admit that we are sinners and have come short of God’ glory (Romans 3:23). That is why so many just can’t seem to come to God on His stated terms. But when we do, and when we accept that we are guilty and  helpless to save ourselves, then we can be made righteous through faith in Christ. That is the required order of things in God’s perfect justice system.  And that Biblical process is never up for debate, vote or discussion. That is what it is and there is no other way to be made  fully just and right before a holy God..

"Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved ."  Acts 4:12

Bill Breckenridge