Friday, December 8, 2017

So Many Christmas Shows





Each and every year, the Christmas season kicks into high gear just as Thanksgiving arrives. In reality, some of the Christmas celebration and landscape transformation comes even before for the big day of thanks rolls around. And without question Black Friday certainly reveals that December 25th is not too  far away.

But one of the signs that the season is upon us is the relentless flood TV of specials that seem to come our way nearly nonstop. Some of these have been around forever and bring back fond memories of our childhood. For instance, the season cannot go by without the airing of classic productions like “Rudolph”, “White Christmas”, “Miracle on 34th Street”, “Frosty”, “It’s A Wonderful Life” and, of course, “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens.

Then, too, there is a second level of programs, some a bit newer, that have become part of the fabric of the season as well. These would include titles like “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, “Elf”, “Home Alone”, “Little Drummer Boy”, “Muppet Christmas”, “Polar Express”, “The Santa Claus”, and one of my all-time favorites, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever”.

Along with these, another large collection of seasonal programming has come into being. This is by way of the Hallmark Channel, which is widely known for family friendly content. The network’s Christmas shows also begin around Thanksgiving and seem to be on the air seven days a week. The story lines are often somewhat predicable. Many seem to end up with a happy and romantic conclusion somewhere out in the country on Christmas Eve as the snow gently begins to fall. Sound familiar?

But as I thought about the large majority of these shows, and even much of the Christmas music we hear, it dawned on me that they have one thing in common. Despite the warm memories they conjure up, and their undeniable entertainment value, they have little to do with the deep significance of the holiday they revolve around. Without question, I adore some of these programs and always will, and I always try to take in my favorites if possible. But how many of them solidly explain, or even make reference to, the coming of the incarnate Son of God in that manger long ago? We can watch the vast majority of these and never hear that Christ came to earth and was wrapped in human flesh in order to have God and sinners reconciled.

So the reality is that watching many of these various holiday programs will better provide a good grasp on the fictional activities at the North Pole each year. As a result, many today can describe what Santa’s army of elves do, the method he transports his goodies about, and can even recite the names of  his famous flying creatures that drag his legendary sled around the entire globe in just one night. This part of the season is not so much wrong, but it just needs to be balanced out with the true historical, spiritual and eternal account of the incarnation of Christ.

But there is just one show in particular that has distinguished itself from the pack. It first aired on December 9, 1965. The format was that of a cartoon, and the budget was a mere $92,000. The voices of the various characters were actually those of the young neighborhood kids of the author Charles Schultz. Many of those who recited their adorable parts were too young to even read at the time. This, of course, is the most beloved holiday show of them all – “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. Most know the music by heart and can repeat many of the show’s humorous lines. But it is the profound words uttered near the end that make this program so special and so unique.

Throughout the show, a reflective Charlie Brown is struggling to find inner peace and the true meaning of Christmas. All he sees is massive materialism and consumerism all about him. In a desperate moment, while trying to direct a pageant, he cries out to his very distracted cast, “Does anyone know what Christmas is all about?’  It is at that moment of personal crisis that little Linus slowly shuffles to the center of the stage with his famous blanket in tow. He calls for a spotlight and then proceeds to quote a portion of the Gospel of Luke chapter 2 from memory.

“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 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 and goodwill towards men.”

Linus then walks slowly back over to Charlie Brown and gently says, “That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” And, indeed, he was dead right! In this simple, short and very inexpensive program, the true meaning of Christ’s first coming was clearly laid out. And it did so by using only the words of Scripture no less. Christmas is about tidings of great joy! And the source of that joy is the Savior who arrived in Bethlehem but who would one day purchase man’s redemption through His sacrifice on a cross.

There are many wonderful shows and films at this most wonderful time of the year. They inspire and entertain. They make us laugh and they make us cry. And they help get us in the mood for the holidays. But be sure this year to also make the true point  of the season the real focal point of the season as did Linus over 50 years ago. And make sure to publicly give “Glory to God in the highest” and thereby convey to all you meet the true significance of the blessed holiday they may already enjoy.

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

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thanksgiving Perspective

It is the holiday season once again with the official start being Thanksgiving of course. And it is a holiday that most all observe in some way or other. But there are far fewer who really grasp it on its deepest and most significant level – specifically the giving of praise and thanks to God!

Recent times in America  have been extra difficult and traumatic. This has been seen especially in the area of domestic violence. First, it was the horrific scene at a Las Vegas concert where 58 were murdered and over 500 injured. Not long after that came the brutal attack on a Texas Church that saw some 26 executed by a lone gunman on a Sunday morning. And then shortly thereafter, another gunman went on a rampage in California. His 45-minute attack on random victims took the lives of 4.before he crashed his truck into a school building and injuring a few of the children there.

Perhaps you are wondering why I bring up a rather dismal subject at this particular season? But before answering, first let me state that the loss of every single soul, no matter where or how it occurs, is dreadful beyond words. And that is because every life matters infinitely to God. We are all made in His image according to Scripture.But there are places on earth so brutal as to make America look like Disneyland in comparison.  For example, in 2010 there were nearly 41, 000 murders in Brazil alone. And the same amount occurred in India.  And in places like this, these may well be a conservative numbers.

Yes, pain and agony occur everywhere. But the level of suffering in some places just defies description. And yet living in 21ST century America remains a huge blessing even with the problems that still do occur.  So there needs to be proper perspective, appreciation and a thankful attitude for the many blessings, benefits and opportunities we enjoy in nation still so mightily blessed of God.

In 1Thessalonians we read this. ‘Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give  thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.’ And the previous verse gives some context to these words. ‘See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone.’ We are told to rejoice constantly even in the midst of hard circumstances. We are directed to remain thankful for our blessings both large and small. And nowhere does it indicate there that we are to do these things only when life is fabulous and when we are not suffering in some way.  Anyone can pull that off with little or no effort. I recently heard someone say, “I guess if you are going to have faith, it can’t just be when the miracles happen, but also when they do not’ 

As Christians, not only do we own the ultimate blessing of salvation through Christ, but we also possess the indwelling Spirit of God. This provides a joy and inner peace that passes all human understanding even when life becomes downright rugged. God's will is that we be thankful for what He has done for us and that we also rely on Him throughout life's many ups and downs.  And I trust this will be our attitude on this Thanksgiving and on every other day of the year as well. 

Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

‘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

Friday, November 10, 2017

Coaches Told Not To Bow in Prayer


According to a November 8 article featured in www.gospelherald.com, the Coweta County School District in Georgia has issued an edict banning all coaches and other employees from participating in student-initiated or student-led prayer or other forms of worship while acting in their official capacity. This came after they obtained video of a  high school football coach bowing his head during a team prayer.

The complaint originated from the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation. The group is comprised of  disgruntled atheists and agnostics who have a long history of similar actions especially in small unsuspecting towns all around the nation.  The protesting group then said, "They cannot join hands, bow their heads, take a knee or commit another act that otherwise manifests approval with the students' religious experience." They also said that it is illegal for public school athletic coaches to lead their teams in prayer because it is unconstitutional  and endorses a  religion when done in an official capacity as a school district employee.

The author of the article then said something quite simple but profound. He wrote, “Professional football coaches are celebrated for taking a knee to protest America, but high school football coaches are targeted for taking a knee to pray with their players. Had Coach Small been taking a knee to protest America, I doubt the Freedom From Religion Foundation would've objected.” He ended his article by saying, “What a mess, folks”  And what a mess this is indeed!

Then add to this kind of nonsense the growing protests to any reference to God anywhere in culture. It is now common even in government circles. A classic example of this came recently when Rep. Ted Lieu, a Democrat from Southern California, walked out during a moment of silence held on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives for the Texas shooting victims. He stated, “I can’t do this again.  I will not be silent. What we need is we need action, we need to pass gun safety legislation now.” What he was saying was that prayer is useless if not counterproductive. Then also Rep. Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat, boycotted a moment of silence on the House floor for victims of October’s Las Vegas shooting, calling it “an excuse for inaction.”  And keep in mind that this was over just a moment of  'silence'.

In 2 Timothy 3:12-13 we read these words. ”Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.  But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.”  These conditions seem to be the case today. And it reminds me of the words of Rev. David Virkler who was the founder of the ministry that includes this blog. He said many times, in light of the twisted attitudes seen in recent days, that ‘The old moralist has become the new criminal.” In other words, those who are Godly believers in Christ, and who outwardly promote Biblical truth, have become targets for doing evil instead of being seen as solutions for it. It is a tragic flip flop and reversal of what is good, right and just before a holy God! 

So what should be our response to what we see in this verse and what we are witnessing all about us in these difficult and declining end times? That advice comes in the following words in verses 14 and 15. “But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them,  and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”

The Bible predicted what the prevailing attitudes would be concerning  Biblical truth in the days leading up to the return of Christ. So the current attacks and persecution on those of the faith should not be any great surprise. But it should instead be an encouragement to stand strong in the midst of it all  while knowing that to live Godly through Christ is to invite opposition but also God’s special  blessing and favor as well.

"Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.  12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  (Matthew 5:11-12)


Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Halloween Terror In New York

It was not the kind of make-believe horror displayed in devilish costumes that is so commonplace everywhere on Halloween. This time it was all too real and very much deadly. The act was a vicious terrorist attack in New York City – the deadliest there since the events of 9/11. And this time, instead of coming through the air, a man intentionally drove a rented Home Depot truck into unsuspecting cyclists and pedestrians. He killed eight and injured dozens more on a bike path near Styvesant High School located off the West Side Highway of Manhattan. 

After crashing his vehicle, initial reports suggested the suspect was holding two firearms that have since been described as imitation guns by authorities. Police eventually shot the suspect and took him into custody. Some witnesses said that he shouted “Allahu Akbar” ("God is greater") after the attack – a solid hint that his rampage was related to Islamist extremism. The method of using a rented vehicle for this style of attack has reportedly been inspired by ISIS as the group  has suggested such techniques in its own publications. News of Tuesday's attack quickly spread through social media, including pro-ISIS channels on encrypted messaging applications where supporters there reportedly cheered the over the tragedy.

It is hard to even fathom such hatred and cruel actions against innocent people. How can anyone inflict such evil and suffering on those they don’t know and who have done nothing at all to do with them? The answer to that question is sometimes very hard to offer – unless the doctrine of human sin and total depravity is solidly in the equation.

Hamartiology comes from the Greek word hamartos meaning sin. It is therefore, is the study of sin. From a biblical perspective, the study includes how sin was introduced into the world, how it impacts the world today, the solution to the sin problem of humanity, the judgment of sin, and the removal of sin at the end of time.

The Bible speaks to the origin of sin in Romans 5:12 where Paul wrote, "Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned." And in the Old Testament, David acknowledged his own inborn sin in Psalm 51:5 where he wrote, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me."

But then in James 1:14-15 we are shown how we are still fully and personally responsible for our wrongful actions. “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”


It is impossible to see into the heart of someone who commits an act as did this wretched soul on Halloween in New York City. But if we could, one thing is fairly certain. We would likely not see the Holy Spirit of Scripture residing there. The killer may indeed have yelled out “Allahu Akbar” ("God is greater") after his deplorable act, but he was certainly not referring to the God of love, mercy, peace and righteousness as described in the Bible.

The Christian God is not the author of evil and sin. He deplores that in every existing form. But  because He loves every sinner, He sent His Son Jesus Christ to die as a man's lone substitute and sacrifice on the cross for us all. This was done so that any lost sinner can come to Him through faith and be gloriously and eternally saved.

The Greek word for this new spiritual birth is soteria, translated as salvation. The results of this great doctrinal truth and blessing means that lost sinners from any background can be fully forgiven and possess an all new heart. And it means, once justified, that they are given a new supernatural ability that allows them to display God’s love and mercy instead of man’s hatred and evil. And only the new birth found in Christ, as spoken of in John 3, can achieve this instant and radical transformation of the soul from the inside out!

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new." (2 Corinthians 5:16-18)

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

500th Anniversary of The Reformation



Every so often a day arrives that represents an event in history that literally changed the world. And such is the case on Tuesday, October 31st. Yes, 2017 brings the anniversary of a day that is not only historically important but also eternally significant. This year, that comes in the form of the 500th anniversary of what is called the Protestant Reformation. Many know exactly what that is and what it meant. But perhaps others have only heard the term or maybe not even that. Either way, it was an event that changed the landscape of the religious world at the time, and its impact continues on some five centuries later.

History.com defines the movement like this. “The Protestant Reformation was the 16th-century religious, political, intellectual and cultural upheaval that splintered Catholic Europe, setting in place the structures and beliefs that would define the continent in the modern era. In northern and central Europe, reformers like Martin Luther, and John Calvin challenged papal authority and questioned the Catholic Church’s ability to define Christian practice.”

The key focus of the Reformers was to purify the church and especially to promote the belief that the Bible, and not church tradition, should be the sole source of spiritual authority.

As far as the key players involved, there were several leading up to what Martin Luther eventually kicked into high gear. There was
John Wycliffe who attacked what he saw as corruptions within the church, including the sale of indulgences, pilgrimages, the excessive veneration of saints, and the low moral and intellectual standards of ordained priests and also the doctrine of  transubstantiation. Also involved was John Huss, who was Bohemian priest. John Calvin was a French theologian who fled religious persecution in France and settled in Geneva in 1536. He instituted a form of Church government in Geneva which has become known as the Presbyterian church. There was John Knox who was a faithful disciple of Calvin. Knox established Calvinistic Protestantism as the national religion of Scotland. And Zwingli was a Swiss theologian and leader of early Reformation movements in Switzerland.

But none were more important than Martin Luther. Luther became a monk at age 21. But despite that strict and  pious lifestyle, he could not seem to find God’s love or forgiveness and became increasingly terrified of the wrath of God. But then, while teaching as a professor at Wittenberg University, he began to see through Scripture a way through his dilemma. He said, "At last meditating day and night, by the mercy of God, I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that through which the righteous live by a gift of God, namely by faith."

After this, he set officially off The Reformation on All Saints' Eve in 1517 when he publicly objected to the way a preacher was selling indulgences to raise money. These were documents prepared by the church and bought by individuals, either for themselves or on behalf of the dead, for the promise that the Pope would release the deceased from  purgatory.

So Luther wrote out his list grievances and concerns, known as his 95 Theses, and nailed them to a church door in Wittenberg Germany. He hoped this would begin a debate on these issues. Before long, they spread across Germany by use of the newly invented printing press and  became a call for large scale reform.

But a public debate did not come until 1519 after Luther made a statement that shocked the organized church of his day. He declared,  “A simple layman armed with the Scriptures is superior to both Pope and councils without them.”  For such beliefs, he was threatened  and eventually  excommunicated.

When asked to recant of his beliefs in 1521 he said, “Unless I can be instructed and convinced with evidence from the Holy Scriptures or with open, clear, and distinct grounds of reasoning ... then I cannot and will not recant, because it is neither safe nor wise to act against conscience.” Then he added these now famous words, “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me! Amen.” Luther was obviously not intimidated and instead he publicly burned the papal bull that excommunicated him.

He would go on to publish other great works including his German translation of the Bible. After a string of various illnesses, Martin Luther died in 1546 at age 62 being confident that he was heaven bound because he had been saved by grace through faith alone in Christ.

In addition to the sale of indulgences and other objectionable practices, there were three primary areas of theological beliefs that were the foundation for what occurred 500 years ago in Europe.

First, there was Sola Scriptura, which meant simply "by Scripture alone". It taught that Scripture was the primary and absolute source for all doctrine, belief and practice. It declared that the Bible alone is the direct revelation from God and core of the faith. Sola Scriptura speaks to the absolute sufficiency, clarity and infallibility of the Bible alone.

Secondly there was Sola Fide. This meant "by faith alone". This doctrine maintains that we are justified before God, or saved, only through trusting in Jesus Christ as Savior. Redemption comes not by anything we do or don’t do, or by anything the church does for us or we do for it.. Salvation does not come by faith plus anything else, as is taught in Ephesians 2:8-9. “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".

Then also, the Reformers promoted the doctrine known as the priesthood of the believer. This is seen in 1 Peter 2:5 where believers are called "a holy priesthood". It teaches that all true Christians are themselves priests before God and that comes through their relationship with their great high priest Jesus Christ. It is based on verses like 1 Timothy 2:5. “There is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus’” This passage reveals that all believers have direct access to God and that there is no need for any earthly go-between.

In summary, the Reformers rejected the authority of the Pope, the merit of good works, indulgences, the mediation of Mary and the Saints, all but the two sacraments (baptism and the Lord's Supper), the doctrine of transubstantiation, prayers for the dead, confessions to a priest, and the use of Latin in the services.

The result of the Reformation was the eventual birth of  Lutheran churches in Germany, Scandinavia and some eastern European countries, the Reformed churches in Switzerland and the Netherlands, Presbyterian churches in Scotland, and the Anglican church in England.

So what does this all mean? And was it all a really a big deal? Although what happened had far reaching consequences in numerous areas of life and culture, it was in the spiritual realm that the greatest impact has made – by far!

The Bible speaks of its own great authority and matchless ability in numerous passages. But perhaps none is clearer than 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Paul wrote, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” In other words, the pages of the Bible come directly from the mind of God and they contain everything we need for life and eternity.

And what does this God-breathed book say about salvation? Romans 10:13 makes it as simple and clear as possible. "For whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved." No special church or denomination is mentioned there. No special good works are mentioned there. No elaborate procedures or programs are mentioned there. And why not? It is because people are redeemed and forgiven today just as they were long before any organized church – Catholic or Protestant – ever existed.

And how do we know that? We know that by asking one simple question: How has anyone, at any time in human history, ever been saved and made right before a holy God? The answer to that most important of all questions is revealed in Romans 4:2. It refers back to Abraham long before even the coming of Christ. “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness."  It has always been about believing God through faith. Had Noah not believed and had faith in what God told him about building the Ark, all of mankind would have perished in the flood.

I have no idea where you stand spiritually today, what kind of church you attend, or if you never attend other than for an occasional wedding. But what I do know, with no reservation or doubt, is that God authored a very special supernatural book. In Hebrews 4:12, we read this of that revelation. “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, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.“ No other book ever can do that – nor can any church for that matter.

And I know that this book is inspired, living and powerful especially because of its unique ability to deal with sin by changing the human heart from the inside out just as it did mine many years ago. And again, what does the God's Word say on this matter of salvation through faith? It basically echoes both of the main points of the Reformation in one short verse. “So then faith (saving faith) comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.“ (Romans 10:17)

Bill Breckenridge