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

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

In Which Beginning?

The Nation Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) announced last week that the National Science Foundation approved $9.5 million in funding to expand HERA – the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array. It is sometimes called the “Cosmic Dawn” telescope.

The project will use radio waves to study the hydrogen atoms that filled the universe around the time that the first stars began to form and discover what the universe looked like as the very first galaxies blazed into existence. The additional $9.5 million in funding will increase the number of radio antennas by more than 10 times what is currently planned, from 19 to 240, by 2018

According to HERA scientists, about a half a million years after the universe exploded into existence with the Big Bang, the cosmos was filled with a thick fog of neutral hydrogen atoms When the first stars were born, an event sometimes called the "cosmic dawn", much of the light they emitted was blocked by the hydrogen fog. Over time, the radiation from those stars and galaxies effectively began to clear away the fog freeing electrons from those neutral hydrogen atoms. The newly formed stars eventually made the universe transparent. This process lasted nearly a billion years and is known as cosmic reionization.

NRAO also stated, “Rather than looking for light from those early stars and galaxies, HERA will study the neutral hydrogen that lies between those early cosmic candles. The telescope's radio antennae's will focus on a specific wavelength that corresponds to light emitted by the slowly vanishing sea of neutral hydrogen that filled the space between the galaxies,"

Did you catch all of that? I’m not sure I did. It is indeed an interesting theory and a bold and expensive scientific endeavor. Is their method correct? Again, I’m not sure partly because I have no idea what they are really doing and how. And also partly because I was not there for the so-called Big Bang or the billion year process they are figuring into their work. And for that matter, neither were they. It always intrigues me when any scientific conclusion begins with presuppositions and not on fully provable facts. And while I marvel at their intellect and zeal for research, there seems to be a far better place to start on this one – but a place that sometimes does not always perfectly line up.

The Bible makes sit clear from its very first words about how everything started. Gen 1:1 states, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." And in verses 14-16 we read, "Then God said, 'Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth'; and it was so. Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also." Those of us who believe in the literal 24-hour day periods of biblical creation would feel that the stars could be seen from earth by man, who came into existence on day six according to verses 26-27. This might raise some serious issues with what HERA and others who are presenting that the light from the stars were blocked for extremely lengthy periods of time.

Scripture makes many references to the stars. Most give God the credit for creating them and even paying very special attention to each and every one. Psalm 8:3 again speaks of God’s creative hand. "When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained." And Psalm 147:4 goes even beyond that declaring, "He counts the number of the stars; He calls them all by name." That is a staggering thought!

Again, modern science has made incredible advances in many spheres including astronomy. And most of what they have accomplished has helped mankind in general making life on the planet far better than it would have been otherwise. I am as grateful as anyone for so many of the blessings that have come through the efforts of so many dedicated and gifted minds.

But the problem arises when God is not part of the equation and, even worse, completely bypassed despite the rather obvious evidence of His existence and creative power. The problem comes when some discovery of how some complex part of the universe works receives more glory than does the One who designed, made and maintains it all.

So just why is giving God the credit He deserves first so crucial? The answer is seen in Romans 1:20-23. "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools" Then verse 28 adds, "And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting." The word "debased" means worthless or unable to judge simple right from wrong or truth from error.

The bottom-line for why humanity is in the overall mess it now is, begins with not properly glorifying God. It arises from going about as though man knows best how to live and has no need of any relationship with his Creator. This is severely compounds the problem when there is then no sense of personal sin and thus no need for a personal Savior to save anyone from it. These have become the tragic embodiment of Psalm 53:1. “The fool has said in his heart, There is no God." And that view has certain devastating eternal consequences!

The vast creation of almighty God is a miraculous and mysterious thing indeed. Only the infinite God could have made what is there. (Col.1:16) And the only thing that can match, and even exceed it, is the spiritual creation of a fully forgiven soul through faith in God’s Son as described in 2 Corinthians 5:17.

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new."

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Protesting The National Anthem

The San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, recently set off a national firestorm when he publicly protested during the playing of the National Anthem before an NFL game. He then did the same again by kneeling during the anthemthis time during the team's season opener on Monday Night Football and just one day after the 15th anniversary of 9/11.

Kaepernick says it is a protest is against the treatment of  "black people and people of color" in the U.S. and that when he feels that the flag represents what it's supposed to represent in this country, then he will again stand during the song. Obviously controversy has arisen within the NFL and around the entire nation with some taking his side and others finding his actions out of place and deplorable.

The NFL quarterback, and those who support him, declare that his public protest is within his constitutional rights. And like it or not, that is the reality of the matter. But I find it interesting that the very first thing used to defend his freedom to protest the anthem is the same document that gives him the right to follow his present course of actions. It is this document that enables him to freely live out the American dream on the massive scale he today enjoys. I wonder how his public and political words and actions would be met had he been offering them up in Iran, Iraq or North Korea?

Is America perfect when it comes to racial equality and total harmony of all who reside within her borders? Of course not. But America has come a long way and was at least founded on a vision and  principles that pretty much were. First there was the Declaration of Independence. The beginning of this great document set the tone for what would hopefully follow. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It began stating that "all were created equal" and therefore were deserving of fair and equal treatment and opportunity. That was the goal and foundation even if those things were badly lacking at the time and an obvious work in progress for many years to come.

Then came the Constitutionanother historical masterpiece and one devised to protect a way of life that has been the envy of the entire world since its inception. The preamble reads, "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." This companion document contains the Bill of Rights. These are the first 10 amendments therein and  protect "we the people" in nearly every imaginable area of life and from almost every area of domestic tyranny.

Again, is America perfect? No. But she is certainly far ahead of whoever is in second place. Even the constitution recognizes that when it opens with, "in Order to form a more perfect Union." That’s a "more perfect union" meaning that flaws would exist and needed to be addressed. The authors recognized that national perfection would never be a total reality because most of them knew we live in a fallen and sinful world. But the intention was at least there and the vehicles put in place to pursue that lofty goal over time.

Colin Kaepernick has the right to protest what he feels is an to be an injustice. And again, it would be wrong to say that no such thing exists todayin many differing areas of life. For example, increasing and unchecked persecution of Christians and Christianity would be firmly in the mix. So perhaps he might consider balancing out some of his criticism with what American has afforded so many along with him in his young life.

Maybe Mr. Kaepernick could try taking his special skills to a more fair-minded and just place elsewhere in the world and try to make the insane amounts of money playing a game here? Maybe he should consider buying his own small nation with the vast sums of money that a life in an imperfect culture has provided him? Or maybe he should just simply trade places with 99% of the world’s people who would give anything, including risking their lives to get into a nation where things are not quite "perfect" enough for his liking? And maybe he would rather reside somewhere with absolutely no rights at all or the ability to vote to enable the changes in the society he feels need to be made?

Or maybe, just maybe, this highly blessed man could pause and thank God for being able to live, thrive and even speak his mind in the most perfect, while imperfect, nation on the face of the earth? Just saying!

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

9/11 And The Ultimate Remembrance

This Sunday marks the 15th anniversary of the day that changed the modern world. And of course that would be non 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 decade and a half ago.

And yet enough time has passed now that something seemingly unique and sad is occurring. With 15 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 little, it 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, and is fairly accurate, 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.

This weekend is the anniversary of 9/11 and many will be 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 again 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 will have 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 – but one who trusts 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