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

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

9/11 and the Ultimate Remembrance

Today marks the 17th anniversary of the day that changed the modern world. And, of course, that would be none other than 9/11. It was a day like no other and will never be forgotten by those old enough to remember the mind-boggling horror that occurred in just a few short hours on a crisp, beautiful September morning. While many went through their typical routines around the country, thousands of unsuspecting souls were brutally and abruptly thrust into eternity. The surreal scene of the mighty World Trade Center in New York crumbling seems as frightfully fresh in our minds today as when we watched it a over a decade and a half ago.

And yet enough time has passed now that something seemingly unique and sad is occurring. With 17 years having passed since this event, there are growing numbers of younger Americans who have no real recollection of the day that will forever impact their lives. All of those born since September 11, 2001, and many who were very young at the time, do not have a first hand remembrance of it all. If they know anythingand some know very littleit may be from a casual history lesson in school or some other brief encounter with the facts that likely don’t do justice to the enormity of the event.

Remembering certain key things in life is crucial. It has been said that those who forget all about history are often doomed to repeats its mistakes. And the reality of that can be seen through many troubling examples down through the years. What happened in World War II would be a sobering illustration.

But there is another form of remembrance that is even more important than the historical or any other. It is essential because it resides in the realm of the spiritual. This special and most critical kind of remembering occurred in the account of the crucifixion of Christ in Luke 23.

The Savior had been placed between two condemned criminals who were being executed with him. While suffering and dying, one of the two men began taunting Him. The account begins in verse 39. “Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, 'If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.' But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, 'Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.' Then he said to Jesus, 'Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.'"

Somehow this one thief recognized, while dying along side of Jesus, that he himself was a sinner. He somehow understood that the man next to him was indeed God in the flesh and was therefore capable of saving and justifying him. In essence he said, "Lord remember that I’m spiritually lost. And Lord please remember to save me and take me with you to your heavenly kingdom when I shortly breathe my last." The Lord’s instant response comes in verse 43. “And Jesus said to him, 'Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.'" In other words, the Savior confirmed that He would remember this man’s dying confession of saving faith and, based on that alone, guaranteed him forgiveness and a place in heaven forever.

Today, many are remembering the day that changed the world – and with good reason. But what occurred on that day was not about crashing planes, burning buildings, rescue efforts or a revitalized war on terror. It is about the precious lives that were lost that day. These can never be rebuilt or replaced.

On that fateful day, all who perished entered eternity in one of two conditions. They were either saved or they were forever lost. They either had Christ as Savior or did not according to 1 John 5:11-12. And those who were redeemed said to Christ at some point in life, "Lord, remember me. Lord, I cannot save myself. Lord, I trust You alone to forgive and make me right before God." And all who had done that prior to departing this life on 9/11 gained paradise just like the poor soul who died along side of the One who died in his place on the cross.

Being ready at a moment's notice to face God, whether in a burning building, a falling plane or through natural causes, is as simple as asking Christ to remember you as a sinner and trusting Him fully as your Savior. He is the One who died for us all and who waits for all to call upon Him in for redemption. There are many valuable things in life worth remembering, but never forget to remember the one thing that matters most in life and especially in death!

"Remember , O LORD, Your tender mercies and Your loving kindnesses, For they are from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions; According to Your mercy remember me, For Your goodness' sake, O LORD.” (Psalm 25:6-7)

Bill Breckenridge

Friday, August 31, 2018

A Different Perspective on Labor Day


Labor Day marks a subtle shift in multiple aspects of most everyone’s life. Vacations have drawn to a close as the summer sun moves slowly southward. Schools are back in session after earnest shopping for clothes and supplies. Kids’ unaccustomed early rising is followed by piles of homework and a better organized routine for parents. Daily traffic volume changes with the back-to-school schedule. Labor Day may also mean an intensified church schedule as programs get back in gear.

Over 100 years ago, leaders of the Labor Movement organized huge parades to honor those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold” in the words of John McGuire, co-founder of the American Federation of Labor.

According to the Department of Labor, the first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882 in New York City and planned by the Central Labor Union. They held a second Labor Day holiday a year later on September 5, 1883. In 1884, the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday.

By 1894, 29 states had passed laws observing Labor Day as a state holiday. That year, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday. In 1909, a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention designated the Sunday preceding Labor Day as Labor Sunday dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.

Work and workers in the Bible have a both a negative and positive aspect:

The thrill of harvest contrasted with the waning deliverance from impending attack and deportation is outlined in Jeremiah 8:20. “The harvest is past, The summer is ended, And we are not saved!”

The futility of working only for food is mentioned in Ecclesiastes 6:7. “All the labor of man is for his mouth, And yet the soul is not satisfied.”

Employment pressures can point us to Christ who invited, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30)

Working for salvation is futile and forbidden:

- Ephesians 2:8, 9 declares, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (emphasis added)

- Titus 3:4, 5 adds, “But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit…”

- Romans 4:5 also indicates that salvation is expressly not a result of works. “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness…”

- The work of Christ is alone able to save. “So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.” (John 19:31)

Positively, the works within salvation are carefully noted and rewarded. “For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister.” (Hebrews 6:10).

Our positive efforts done out of gratitude will linger for time and eternity. The final book of the Bible summarizes all believers’ labor days. “Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, ‘Write: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.’” (Revelation 14:13)

It is best when we work for the Lord since we can fully retire in Heaven forever because of His finished work.

Dave Virkler

This was originally posted in September 2009, but its insights and message are timeless, so we are sharing it again.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Immigration and True Freedom



Illegal immigration has always been a difficult issue. President Trump’s decision to fully enforce a policy of separating children from parents who cross the U.S.border illegally while their cases are being heard has become the focus of intense criticism and debate. Each side offers facts to support their view, and emotions are running high – so much so that members of the Trump administration are being singled out by protesters and even refused service at a restaurant.

There is endless debate about this as a legal issue, moral issue, or both. The issue doesn't look like it will be resolved any time soon. Whatever the outcome, the problem highlights some biblical themes.

Every one of us is on earth temporarily. This world is not our final home, and we are all travelers seeking a permanent and eternal residence with the hope of something better. For those who have accepted Christ as Savior, that home is Heaven, which is reached when a believer dies or when Christ returns to take His church to be with Himself. For those who don’t know Christ, the border is closed and there is no entrance.

Proper documents allow immigrants to enter a country legally and afford them the opportunity to make a new life there. Illegal aliens (undocumented immigrants) live with the constant fear of deportation and rarely have the opportunity to make a better life. Likewise, having the proper “paperwork” is the only way to obtain eternal life. Only those whose names are found in the Lamb’s Book of Life gain entrance to Heaven and enjoy its benefits forever.

John described the scene that will take place when the official spiritual documents are examined. “And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life … there shall be no means enter [heaven] anything that defiles…but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.” (Revelation 20:12; 21:27)

When immigrants become U.S. citizens after coming to America, they enjoy the advantages that offers. In Christ, believers are citizens of the heavenly kingdom even before we arrive there. The Apostle Paul wrote of believers, “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” (Ephesians 2:19) Because of this citizenship, believers enjoy benefits in addition to eternal life that are not available to non-citizens including God’s presence (Hebrews 13:5), God’s care (Luke 12:22-31), answered prayer (John 16:23), and, most importantly, permanent citizen status (John 10:28, 29).

For most illegal immigrants, nothing short of amnesty will allow them to stay in the U.S. legally. In His death on the cross, Jesus Christ provided the “amnesty” that allows our permanent residence in Heaven. Forgiveness of the sin that separates us from God is available to any who accept it (Romans 10:13).

While the President, Congress and political pundits debate the pros and cons of immigration legislation, deportation, amnesty, and family reunions, there is no debate on residency status in Heaven. Scripture is quite clear. “And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire (hell, eternal punishment)” (Rev. 20:15).

A person who is truly born again can never be “deported” from God’s kingdom. Christ said, “…the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37). Accept Christ now so that your eternal home is secure.

Sadly, many who are legal or natural-born citizens of the U.S. think they are free, but they are still trapped in spiritual chains. Without knowing it, their hearts yearn for a freedom that is even more precious – freedom from sin through the blood of Jesus Christ.

“If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. …if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:31, 32, 36)

Gayle Virkler

If you are not sure if Heaven will be your eternal home, click here for more information.