Thursday, November 29, 2007

Stem Cell Research Breakthrough

On November 20, it was reported that two research facilities on two continents had made an astounding human stem cell research breakthrough. They found that they could grow stem cells from ordinary human skin cells—from a woman’s face in one case and from a male newborn in the other. One scientist declared, "This work represents a tremendous scientific milestone—the biological equivalent of the Wright Brothers first airplane," and added, "It’s a bit like learning how to turn lead into gold."

Stem cells are those which transform themselves into the many body parts of the fully developed human in a body’s early development. If scientists can make these replicate themselves into whatever body part needs replacement or healing, various deadly illnesses can be healed.

Researchers had been working stem cells from umbilical cords and embryos, and some had hoped to use cloned human material. The use of embryos and cloned material created a moral firestorm since Biblical moralists believe that these procedures go against the sanctity of life created by God. If the reports prove true, the new procedure undercuts some enthusiasts of abortion and cloning. It further shrinks financial research fund-raising needs to almost nothing.

Scientists are unsure as to why these simple skin cells are behaving like they are. Stem cell research pioneer James Thompson said, "People didn’t know it would be this easy. Thousands of labs in the United States can do this basically tomorrow." Thompson also said, "These particular genes were known to turn other genes on and off, but just how they produced cells that mimic embryonic stem cells is a mystery."

That’s pretty close to confessing a miracle. Scientists have these simple cells right before their eyes under a microscope day after day, yet they can’t tell why this happens. They know a single human cell divides into all sorts of different cells, yet they don’t know how.

God covers this issue in Psalm 139:13-16: "For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother's womb. I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them."

"Fearfully" means to stand in reverential awe. "Wonderfully" has the sense of set apart or unique." "Skillfully wrought," or "curiously wrought" as the Old King James says, really means "embroidered," suggesting the intricate and personal handiwork of God. "Substance, being yet unformed," can mean a wrapped and unformed mass as in an embryo.

Ecclesiastes 11:5 adds, "As you do not know what is the way of the wind, Or how the bones grow in the womb of her who is with child, So you do not know the works of God who makes everything."

Christ said in John 3:8, "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit." Being born again is like the mystery of the stem cell miracle. Being born of His Spirit is not discerned by curious unbelievers, but those who trust Christ know it is true.

Only God alone can construct a single human cell. We humans are unique and truly awesome. Now we learn all the genetic detail is in every single body cell and can possibly be coaxed to reproduce each body part. All the coding is there. The possibilities of this being accidental or the product of evolution is absurd. We might call this God’s minutia miracle. Stem cell scientists haven’t invented anything. They are mere explorers in a staggeringly complex single cell area.

Proponents of evolution claim it takes millions of years to make a single cell into a complex human being. There is still extreme complexity in a single cell of any creature, and they can’t explain how it got to be the single cell in the first place.

Actually, Charles Darwin believed God created the original life forms and that they developed from there over fantastically long period of time. Big deal. A full human being develops in nine months, and that’s from a single cell that subdivides with stem cell genius. It happens all the time, and scientists can’t tell how. If humans can do it in nine months, God could create Adam in an instant. It’s God’s miracle, and we hope these stem cell discoveries will lead researchers to consider the eternal genius of God.

David Virkler

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Turn Off Those Screens!

Dr. Laura Tosi, of the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, calls it “a potential time-bomb”. It is not terrorism, underage drinking, illegal drug use, or even the ever-present danger of venereal diseases. It is, of all things, Rickets – a disease which was a scourge back in the 19th century.

Rickets occurs when the body’s bones become too soft. In advanced cases it can cause legs to literally bow. It was thought to have been eradicated with milk fortification, but new studies indicate it is making a comeback.

Researchers fear that an entire generation of kids could be rushing towards osteoporosis. Dr. James Beaty, president of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons cites, "There's some early data showing that even a 10 percent deficit in your bone mass when you finish your adolescent years can increase your potential risk of having osteoporosis and fractures as much as 50 percent."

Then add to that the Mayo Clinic study that U.S. children break their arms more often today than four decades ago - girls 56 percent more, and boys 32 percent more. Along with a proper diet and proper calcium intake, experts also claim exercise is crucial inprevention of obesity and in making bones strong in the crucial formative years of life. Unfortunately, a majority of today’s kids do not get adequate exercise. This is largely due to the exorbitant amounts of time spent sitting in front of the vast array of electronic screens that tend to dominate their world.

Few would dare argue the value of exercise as it relates to overall good health. That goes without saying. But how many make the correlation between that and exercising for proper health in the spiritual realm? In his letter to his young son in the faith, the Apostle Paul gives sound advice. In I Timothy 4:8, he addresses both physical and spiritual soundness in just one single verse. “For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.”

Then in his second letter and chapter 3, he relates to the young pastor the primary source of all spiritual wellness. Beginning with verse 16, he conveys to Timothy, “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 essence he was instructing Timothy to study, apply and preach God’s Word in order to avoid all manner of spiritual illness, and to ready himself for fruitful Christian living and service.

The most significant scourge of the hour, although terrible, is not Rickets, Cancer or AIDS. It is simply the overall ignorance of God and His Word – both in and outside the church of Christ. That is a serious problem. It is a growing and frightening problem. And its impact is devastating to individuals, families, and the entire nation.

With that being said, there is a definitive answer - a sound solution. The source and scope of spiritual health, as revealed in II Timothy 3:16, was summarized by well-known Bible teacher Warren Wiersbe in this way: “All Scripture is God-breathed. It tells us what is wrong, what is right, how to get right, and how to stay right with God.”

The Great Physician expects spiritual wellness in His people, but not without equipping them with all the preventative and curative tools for the task.

Bill Breckenridge

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Then What About the What Thens?

Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin ran a story on her blog recently, entitled, “Stop Before You Gripe”. It was meant to give perspective to those who tend to ignore their many blessings. And did it ever accomplish just that goal!

Malkin described the story of Army Specialist John Austin Johnson of El Paso, Texas. Themember of Fort Bliss’ 4-1 Cavalry had survived five previous bombing incidents during histour in the Middle East. Then an IED attack landed him in Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio with massive head wounds.

As if this was not bad enough for the husband and father of 3 young children, what occurred later most certainly was. During a trip by Johnson’s wife and children to visit their hero in recovery, there was a terrible accident. All three children were killed, two of them instantly. The nine-year old died weeks later on after being kept alive for a time on life support. And this was all just weeks before Thanksgiving. Fortunately, several generous organizations stepped in to help the family out but the damage was doneand the seemingly unimaginable had become an unthinkable reality.

The book of Job describes the events of a man who suffered the loss of his children, his possessions and his own health. Even his wife was of little value in his time of great need.

But Job’s response was one for the ages and is preserved in God’s Word for those willing to look at his response to what God had allowed. After hearing of the death of his own children in chapter 1, part of this godly man’s response is penned beginning at verse 20.“The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD. In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong. “

After much dialogue, the book ends with Job repenting and better understanding the ways of an all-knowing and all-powerful Creator. Then, too, Job’s former life was eventually restored, becoming even fuller than before. That was a wonderful ending for him in the long ago while still inspiring us in the here and now. But do all difficult, or utterly terrible, experiences work out as did this one? In a word - no! And when that is the case a probing but sobering question quickly surfaces. Then what?

The answer to the ‘then what’ is explained in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 4. There he describes something seen as utterly foolish to a spiritually blinded world, but also missed by many who do know God and so should know better. Verse 6 starts by addressing how Christians are to react to stress and strain. “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.“

God’s Word promises His supernatural peace even when life dishes out its worst ‘what then’ circumstances. But the passage gives several prerequisites as well. Total trust, serious prayer and heartfelt thanksgiving are keys to possessing what Paul terms a ‘guarded heart’. These same spiritually-based power tools likewise can lead to something even more stunning then that - God’s amazing grace! Grace is much talked about in Christian circles mostly as it relates to salvation. But grace afterwards is also the miracle that many would rather avoid if it means their trials may linger on.

Even more staggering than having a fully guarded heart is that this same miracle-working grace is not only attainable and reliable, but at times is actually preferable. And for those who may struggle with how that can be so, listen to the Lord’s clear but profound words to the suffering Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9. “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness."

There is no ‘what then’ able to suppress or defeat the perfected strength of Christ displayed in the lives of His people. God’s peace and grace was more than adequate for victory in Job’s day, and the same outcome applies in our day.

Bill Breckenridge

Monday, November 26, 2007

President Urges Continuing Thanks.

In his weekly radio address to the nation, President Bush has asked that the Thanksgiving season be extended for a few extra days. His focus was on America’s military personnel.

Speaking primarily about the troops who are in the Middle-East, he stated, "Giving thanks has been an American tradition from the beginning. We are grateful to all our men and women in uniform who are spending this holiday weekend far from their families. We keep them in our thoughts and prayers. And we especially remember those who have given their lives in our nation's defense."

In I Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul addresses the subject of giving thanks. In chapter 2 and verse 13 he reveals his spirit of constant thanks for those who had come to Christ through the truths of Scripture.

But then later in chapter 5 he speaks to the subject of thanksgiving, but in more general terms. There he ties it directly to God’s desire for all that reside in His family through faith. Beginning in verse 16 he writes, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Tragically, there are few aspects of the Christian experience that seem more misunderstood and less participated in than the continual giving thanks to God. But for those who know Him, and owe Him everything they are and will someday become, an attitude of thanks is to be the norm. This includes when life is going quite smoothly or when circumstances are downright frightening and miserable!

Giving thanks, regardless of outward troubles or inward burdens, is more than a good suggestion. It is not just an appropriate concept for a specified season. It is, in many ways, the essence of Christianity. It forms the basis for true worship – mankind’s highest and purest duty in this life and for the next. And one does not need to be a seasoned theologian to understand that praising his or her Creator is the direct ‘will of God in Christ Jesus’.

It has been said that, “God inhabits the praises of his people”. That was true of God’s chosen people back in Psalm 22:3. And the same holds true for those who comprise the object of His enduring love today – the precious blood-bought Church of Jesus Christ.

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving: Holiday or Holy Day?

Thanksgiving may be just another holiday for many Americans, but for believers it reflects a permanent attitude that is based on the Bible, confirmed by our national history and once again proclaimed this year by the President of the United States.

Thanksgiving is a national holiday by historic precedent and Congressional action. George Washington was the first to issue a presidential Thanksgiving proclamation. From 1816-1861, there were no proclamations, but every president since Abraham Lincoln has issued an annual proclamation. Each ends with, "In the year of our Lord…," meaning of course, Jesus Christ, whose birth re-calibrated time.

Numerous proclamations by Congress early in America’s history urged American citizens to give thanks. They mention "Almighty God," the "Supreme Ruler" and the "Creator;" the "merits of our Savior," "gracious Redeemer," "divine grace," and the "gospel of peace." These are important Scriptural words reflecting Biblical Christianity.

Until 1939, Thanksgiving was celebrated on the last Thursday of November. That year, it fell only 25 days before Christmas Day. President Franklin Roosevelt moved it back a week to create a longer holiday shopping season, and some people cynically named it "Franksgiving." Congress fixed the day as the third Thursday in November in 1941, and that has been observed ever since.

The concept of Thanksgiving, however, runs across the centuries back into Bible times.

The Old Testament words "praise" and "thanks" are basically the same in Hebrew. The first usage of the word "praise" is found in Genesis 29:35 where Jacob’s wife, Leah, gives birth to Judah and says, "Now I will praise the Lord." The name Judah simply means "praise."

The first use of the word translated as "thanks" in the King James Version is in II Samuel 22:50 where King David, much known for his verbal praise in the Psalms and who is also in the lineage of Christ, lauds His Lord in a lengthy song. "Therefore I will give thanks unto You, O Lord, among the Gentiles, And sing praises unto thy name."

Leah’s words should tell us something of ultimate praise and worship. The birth of Judah marked a turning point in her life. In naming her fourth child, she worshipped God instead of lamenting her husband’s chilly marital relationship (Leah’s sister Rachel was the wife Jacob loved). Judah was in the lineage of David and Christ the Messiah, and Leah must have comprehended this somehow.

It should be no surprise that Christian thanksgiving and praise should be about the Lord Jesus Christ. As Hebrews 13:15 says, "Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name." Indeed, "Thanks be unto God for His indescribable gift!" (2 Corinthians 9:15)

That is the heart of Thanksgiving. It is a holiday and an attitude, and it presupposes a Supreme Giver of every good and perfect gift. Holiday by definition simply means "holy day." Everyday is Thanksgiving Day because Jesus Christ, the greatest gift ever, is the constant focus of our thanks. To know Him is to love Him, and to love Him is to thankfully serve Him every day.

David Virkler

Listen up, America!

A careful examination of early United States congressional proclamations of Thanksgiving reveals Biblical themes woven throughout. Following are a few excerpts (emphasis mine). This entry is a bit long, but it will be worth your while to read through it.

United States Congress – 1777
"Forasmuch as it is the indispensable Duty of all Men to adore the superintending Providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with Gratitude their Obligation to him for Benefits received, and to implore such farther Blessings as they stand in Need of: And it having pleased him in his abundant Mercy, not only to continue to us the innumerable Bounties of his common Providence; Divine Benefactor Confession of their manifold Sins the Merits of JESUS CHRIST prosper the Means of Religion, for the promotion and enlargement of that Kingdom, which consisteth ‘in Righteousness, Peace and Joy in the Holy Ghost.’"

1778 – "It having pleased Almighty God, through the course of the present year, to bestow great and manifold mercies on the people of these United States; and it being the indispensable duty of all men gratefully to acknowledge their obligations to Him for benefits received … humble supplication for pardon, through the merits of our Savior; so that, under the smiles of Heaven …"

1779 – "Whereas it becomes us humbly to approach the throne of Almighty God, with gratitude and praise for the wonders which his goodness has wrought … solemn thanksgiving to Almighty God for his mercies, and of prayer for the continuance of his favor and protection to these United States … and above all, that he hath diffused the glorious light of the gospel, whereby, through the merits of our gracious Redeemer, we may become the heirs of his eternal glory … that he would grant to his church the plentiful effusions of divine grace, and pour out his holy spirit on all ministers of the gospel; that he would bless and prosper the means of education, and spread the light of Christian knowledge through the remotest corners of the earth…"

1780 – "Whereas it hath pleased Almighty God, the Father of all mercies, amidst the vicissitudes and calamities of war, to bestow blessings on the people of these states … celebrate the praises of our Divine Benefactor; to confess our unworthiness of the least of his favors, and to offer our fervent supplications to the God of all grace … to cherish all schools and seminaries of education, build up his churches in their most holy faith and to cause the knowledge of Christianity to spread over all the earth."

1781 – "Whereas, it hath pleased Almighty God, the supreme Disposer of all Events father of mercies remarkably to assist and support the United States of America … to offer up our most fervent supplications to the God of all grace, that it may please Him to pardon our offenses, and incline our hearts for the future to keep all his laws … to bless all seminaries of learning; and cause the knowledge of God to cover the earth, as the waters cover the seas.

1782 – "It being the indispensable duty of all nations, not only to offer up their supplications to Almighty God, the giver of all good, for his gracious assistance in the a time of public distress, but also in a solemn and public manner to give him praise for his goodness in general, and especially for great and signal interpositions of his Providence in their behalf … thanksgiving to God for all his mercies: and they do further recommend to all ranks, to testify their gratitude to God for his goodness, by a cheerful obedience to his laws, and by promoting, each in his station, and by his influence, the practice of true and undefiled religion, which is the great foundation of public prosperity and national happiness"

1783 – "…the interposition of Divine Providence in our favor hath been most abundantly and most graciously manifested, and the citizens of these United States have every possible reason for praise and gratitude to the God of their salvation. Impressed, therefore, with an exalted sense of the magnitude of the blessings by which we are surrounded, and of our entire dependence on that Almighty Being, from whose goodness and bounty they are derived … he hath been pleased to continue to us the light of the blessed gospel, and secured to us in the fullest extent the rights of conscience in faith and worship. And while our hearts overflow with gratitude, and our lips set forth the praises of our great Creator, that we also offer up fervent supplications … to smile upon our seminaries and means of education, to cause pure religion and virtue to flourish, to give peace to all nations, and to fill the world with his glory…"

1784 – "…the benign interposition of Divine Providence hath, on many occasions, been most miraculously and abundantly manifested; and the citizens of the United States have the greatest reason to return their most hearty and sincere praises and thanksgiving to the God of their deliverance; whose name be praised: Deeply impressed therefore with the sense of the mercies manifested to these United States, and of the blessings which it hath pleased God, to shower down on us, of our future dependence, at all times, on his power and mercy as the only source from which so great benefits can be derived … pronounce the praises of our great and merciful Creator, that we may also offer up our joint and fervent supplications, that it may please him of his infinite goodness and mercy, to pardon all our sins and offenses … that he may be pleased to smile upon us, and bless our husbandry, fishery, our commerce, and especially our schools and seminaries of learning; and to raise up from among our youth, men eminent for virtue, learning and piety, to his service in church and state; to cause virtue and true religion to flourish, to give to all nations amity, peace and concord, and to fill the world with his glory..."

This Thanksgiving, we would do well to remember where we’ve come from so we know where we are going.

Dave Virkler

Another MVP for A-Rod

He is simply known as the greatest living player in baseball. And this year, due to his league-leading 54 homers, 156 RBIs and 143 runs, he won his third Most Valuable Player award. He is, of course, Alex Rodriguez – the player many New York Yankee fans either love or hate, depending on his performance on any given day.

After opting out of his already staggering contract with the Yankees, A-Rod recently came crawling back for more. Apparently the new $275 million dollar deal, factoring out to about $166,000 per regular season game, was ‘respectable’ enough to again sign on the dotted line. But despite the cash, and the assumption that he will now break Barry Bonds new home run record while in pin stripes, the star third basemen is not yet content. Recently he stated, "There's definitely a huge hole in the resume. And I mean, it's my third MVP and I'm here to say that I would trade all three for one world championship. I wouldn't think twice about it.

"Few would any longer argue that the money being paid to most of today’s professional athletes has crossed over from the amazing to the obscene. When compared to careers that better society - or even protect it - for relatively modest incomes, something is badly out of balance. But if the money and skills are there, who can blame today’s superstars from reaching out and hauling it in?

In Matthew 19, a man of affluence came to Jesus with the question of questions. In verse 16 he asked of the Lord, "Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?"But after confidently defending his outwardly upright lifestyle, Jesus hit him with an unexpected answer in verse 21. "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." The unhappy ending to their brief encounter comes in that very next verse. “But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”

Riches, in and of themselves, are not evil, although the Bible does forcefully warn of their deadly influence and potential dangers in 1 Timothy 6:10. Also, some of God’s choice servants in Scripture were well off, materially speaking. The real issue, however, is one of simple priorities and whether or not earthy assets are used for heavenly pursuits and for assisting others less fortunate.

In Mark‘s gospel, chapter 8, another probing question is put forth, this time from the lips of Christ. Its answer must be seriously considered by all, and particularly by those who have been blessed with an excess of worldly goods. Verse 36 asks, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?”

Simply stated, whether one is rich, poor, or somewhere in the middle, God declares in Matthew 6:33 His basic expectation for each of us. “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

But is this really true? Does this really work? If we don’t really know, perhaps it’s only because we have never really tried it.

Bill Breckenridge

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

America’s Most Dangerous Cities

The 14th annual ‘City Crime Rankings’ have been released. The study, published by CQ Press, compiles the FBI’s crime data each year and then ranks the nation’s major and middle-sized cities. This year the controversial study looked at 378 U.S. cities with at least 75,000 people and then calculated how dangerous each one was. The categories analyzed included homicide, rape, aggravated assault, burglary and auto theft.

For the past year Detroit, MI was given the infamous top honors by squeaking past St. Louis - last year’s big loser. Crime has been no stranger to the Motor City, which was tagged with the distinction back in the 1980’s as the nation's "murder capital”. On the other end of the spectrum, the study ranked Mission Viejo, California, as the safest place to live in America.

All crime, whatever it is, wherever it is, and whenever it comes, results from sin. The source and results of all evil are described in detail in Romans chapter one. The Apostle Paul writes in verse 21, “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 in verse 28 he further explains the cause of the dilemma. "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”. This is followed by perhaps the most comprehensive list of small and large sins in the entire Word of God.

All sin is offensive to a just God. And for Him to allow that to go unpunished and unpaid for would go directly against the grain of His holy character. Fortunately, His righteous character is balanced by His unfathomable love for a human race snared in the terrible web of rebellion.

This same love motivated Him to create and carry out an unimaginable and costly solution. That same plan of redemption allowed for any truly repentant lost sinner to break free of sin’s grasp and consequences. The entire concept is clearly defined and summarized in Romans 5:8-9. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.”

Sin came into being not long after man’s placement in God’s special garden of Genesis 2. Its devastating results will remain until Christ’s blessed return ends its brutal reign of terror. And even now evil seems to be intensifying as the calendar of time winds down. But when sin does rear its ugly head, whether in the most dangerous or the safest place on earth, those in God’s family by faith know well, and have experienced first-hand, the miraculous blessing of Paul’s words on Romans 5:20. “But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Detroit may be ranked as number one in crime for now, but neither its frequency nor its wretched depths of depravity are priority one. In the final analysis, all that matters is whether or not sin has been fully forgiven by Jesus Christ, its power totally broken, and its penalty forever removed as shared in Psalm 103:12. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”

Bill Breckenridge

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Praying for Rain

Georgia’s governor has reverted to a spiritual solution to the state’s drought by publicly praying for rain. Governor Sonny Purdue led a crowd of several hundred in prayer outside the state Capitol saying, "We’ve come together here simply for one reason only: to very reverently and respectfully pray up a storm … It’s time to appeal to Him who can and will make a difference." In direct prayer to Almighty, Purdue pled, "God, we need you. We need rain."

With very few days left in the water supply and inter-state tension over common dwindling water, Governor Purdue’s prayers evoked the wrath of the Atlanta Freethought Society, which protested a religious observance on state property.

Little actual precipitation is expected in the short run, but time will tell whether God answered this unusual supplication. Praying for various needs is a standard procedure of overstressed people, but most of them have no prayer standing whatever with God until they repent and submit to Him through Jesus Christ in a prayer for personal salvation as found in Luke 18:13: "God, be merciful to me the sinner."

General prayer is not an automatic verbal Aladdin’s Lamp. God may answer any prayer, but He has no obligation outside Christ’s notable exclusivity of prayer in His Name. "And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it." (John 14:13-14) If the governor is born again and prays within this prayer legacy, there’s rain in his future.

The Bible records uniquely altered weather patterns. James 5:17-18 recalls, "Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit."

Israel’s typical rainfall patterns were the two-fold early and latter rains so often mentioned in the Bible. "And it shall be that if you earnestly obey My commandments which I command you today, to love the Lord your God and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, then I will give you the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the latter rain, that you may gather in your grain, your new wine, and your oil." (Deuteronomy 11:13-15) Early rains softened the soil for planting, and latter rains fell to give maturing crops a final growth spurt.

Abnormal weather patterns reflected spiritual disorder and brought drought and crop failure. Repentant intercession restored proper rainfall as found in II Chronicles 7:13-15. "When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people, if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land."

If Governor Perdue’s praying is repentant intercession, his action is surely a step in the right direction.

Dave Virkler

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Should you be worried?

Avian influenza (bird flu) is unsettling the medical experts and threatening the world. With haunting memories of the flu epidemic that killed an estimated 50 million people globally in 1918-1919, several strains of flu are jeopardizing the world. Some U.S. businesses are sponsoring seminars to ready their firms for a woeful reduction in their own workforces and the slowing of raw materials and delivery systems arising from millions being ill and unable to function.

The latest disquieting story comes from England where there is another outbreak of bird flu. According to a November 13th TIME Internet article, Britain’s poultry industry has already suffered a $19 million loss from a previous bird flu outbreak last February. And that is on top of two other animal pestilences of foot-and-mouth-disease and blue tongue disease. Now thousands of birds are again being slaughtered, and there are fears that a mutation of this deadly and virulent strain of bird flu could jump into humans and spread among global populations. How many more fowls face destruction to control the current outbreak is unclear.

One thing is perfectly clear. The world faces potential medical disaster from various bird flu outbreaks and from other viruses energized by casual overdosing of antibiotics. Even the vaccinations against these diseases are questioned by some who declare that the percentage of reaction illness, disability and death these injections cause are as bad as or worse than the peril of contracting the disease. (It is estimated that 25 died and 500 suffered the terrible effects of Guillain-Barré syndrome as a result of national swine flu inoculations in 1976.)

Whether the diseases are natural or man-induced, the Bible forecasts some rough medical years in the end times. Christ predicted, "And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven." (Luke 21:11) Pestilence is defined as "a deadly infectious disease." The 1918 Spanish flu epidemic took possibly the most lives worldwide of any recorded pandemic, and some analysts predict a potential epidemic eclipsing that. Interestingly, the Book of Revelation uses the term "plague" ten times indicating it will be a time of disease. The end times might well be upon us.

Should Christians fear? Never. Christ gives "perfect peace" to the trusting. Isaiah 26:3 says "You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You." And there is as much medical protection as is possible to those who trust. "You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, Nor of the arrow that flies by day, Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday. A thousand may fall at your side, And ten thousand at your right hand; But it shall not come near you." (Psalm 91:5-7)

Whether you choose to be inoculated or not, Biblical insight, clean living, dietary discernment, optimistic attitudes and sound judgment are at least a foundation for health and a defense against disease. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and depart from evil. It will be health to your flesh, And strength to your bones." (Proverbs 3:5-8)

The worst that disease ever does to the child of God is promote him to Heaven as II Corinthians 5:6 promises. "So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord…."

If you do not know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, then genuine fear is warranted. Jesus Christ said that in the end times there would be the "distress of nations, with perplexity…men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth…" (Luke 21:26) Accept Him as Savior today, and you can face an uncertain future with the promise of Heaven and without fear.

Dave Virkler

Is Sin Taxable?

The price of an already expensive pack of cigarettes may rise again significantly if the Congress gets its way. It appears now that the House and Senate are trying to devise a veto-proof bill to further tax tobacco products. If passed, the increasing of one of the so-called ‘sin taxes’ would top $1.00 per pack and would be used to fund the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

Philip Morris USA, the nation's largest cigarette maker, has been urging people to pressure lawmakers to try and stop the proposal and have stated on their website, "Taxing smokers is unfair." But fair or not, few have forgotten how the major tobacco companies agreed to pay over 52 billion dollars in 1998 for smoking-related health care troubles.

While the two opposing sides scurry for allies, very few would any longer debate the fact that sin, especially when habitual, can be very damaging and costly! Those who have experienced any severe addiction can easily relate to the difficulty of breaking free when helplessly enslaved by some brutal habit.

In Romans 6 the Apostle Paul speaks about being a slave to sin. In verse 16 he relates the impact and devastating end results which occur when sin completely dominates a life. "Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?"

That is the bad news. But the very next verse presents the good news. "But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness."

In Psalm 51, King David realized the far-reaching implications of his great personal sin. In verse 1 he agonizes before God crying out, "Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your loving kindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil inYour sight, that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge."

Obviously sin is costly. But its impact is far greater than anything brought on by health or economical issues. It breaks and blocks the relationship between God and man. It ruins lives and can bring unimaginable eternal consequences. But it also caused the single most ‘unfair’ event ever! Man’s rebellion prompted the flawless Son of God to fully pay the wretched price for our sins. His sacrificial death on the cross, the solution to mankind’s universal plague, was beyond terrible. It was beyond our understanding. And it was also far beyond unjust. But fortunately, Christ’s sacrifice was not beyond the amazing mercy and redemptive plan of a loving Savior and Creator.

Romans 5:20 sums it up well. "Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more."

Bill Breckenridge

Monday, November 12, 2007

When is old too old?

He’s done it again. Former President George H.W. Bush has once more jumped from a plane, this time at age 83 and on a newly replaced hip. It was in conjunction with the opening of his museum after that section of his Presidential library had been closed for renovations. The sky dive was the former president’s first since 2004 when he took a plunge to celebrate his 80th birthday. Bush’s first jump was back in World War 2 when he was shot down in the South Pacific. Of course, current jumps have been recreational with Mr. Bush strapped to a parachute team expert for safety purposes.

Few ever have the opportunity, or the bravery, to jump from a plane. And most would feel no real need to do so, especially if their craft was functioning just fine. Also, there are just as many who have a fear of flying, much less jumping, that prevents them from even boarding an airplane at all. With that said, this is a reminder that those who belong to Christ through faith are someday destined for a journey that will make jumping from a fighter plane seem effortless and dull by comparison.

The Apostle Paul speaks in 1 Thess. 4 about a great future event involving both those who have died in Christ and those who are still alive for His glorious return. In verse 16 Paul writes, "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words."

The excitement and joy of that miraculous upcoming event can only be imagined now by those destined to take it. But that same trip through the air is accompanied by a promise of a spiritually aided life-long flight in the here and now. The prophet Isaiah relates how those who trust fully in God to one day raise them up, will also be guided by Him through the dark skies of this life.

Beginning in verse 31 of chapter 40 he writes:
"But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint."

The aging process will eventually catch up to, and ground, the aging 41st president. But those in Christ Jesus have the promise of soaring, even through life’s most stressful times, with the grace and strength of an eagle. And then someday they will be piloted to the heights of heaven itself through the resurrection power of God’s Son.

Bill Breckenridge

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Should the Yankees Require Perfection?

The World Series is over and a bust to all but those in New England after the Red Sox sweep of the upstart Colorado Rockies in 4 straight games. But during, and now continuing after the fall classic, the big news still revolves around baseball’s most loved and hated Bronx Bombers. And interestingly, the main stories revolve around those who are no longer on the team!

First, all-star third baseman Alex Rodriguez decided to test the free agency waters announcing his decision in the middle of a World Series game - a move that irritated many fans of the sport. Then Joe Torre, who led his club to playoff baseball for 12 consecutive years, departed under less than favorable circumstances. This was followed a week or two later with the announcement that he had become the new manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Yankee management made it quite clear, despite his winning 4 world titles, that anything short of World Series perfection would not be enough to keep the beloved skipper in the fold.

In a previous interview Torre spoke about the demands of the New York ownership who arguably place the best team on the field each year, at least according to the payroll. He said that every team’s goal should be to get to, and win, the World Series. But to expect any team to win it all every year would require perfection, something flat out unreasonable.

The dictionary defines perfection as a "state of completeness and flawlessness". In its ultimate form it is seen in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The personal perfection of God's Son is revealed in Hebrew 4:15, where it says that He was "…in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin." Then in John 17 and 19 Christ’s perfect work is eluded to. In John 17:4 Jesus is speaking to His Heavenly Father and says, "I have glorified You on the earth. I have ‘finished’ the work which You have given Me to do." Then John 19:30 points out His completed payment for mankind’s staggering sin problem. "So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit."

According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, that English word translated ‘finished’ comes from the Greek word ‘teleo’. It refers to the concept of something being completed, performed, accomplished, or paid in full. So basically, the perfect Son of God completely and flawlessly justified all that trust in His sacrificial death on the cross for them.

But beyond that, Scripture reveals something equally stunning in Colossians 2. Verses 9 -10 state, "For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are ‘complete’ in Him, who is the head of all principality and power." The word ‘complete’ here is yet another term referring to something fully accomplished. It is a miraculous thing for a holy Creator to carry out His precise plan of salvation for rebellious men and women. But it is another thing altogether for those same sinners to be made spiritually complete, lacking nothing, and able to live a kind of Christian life which resists temptation, and both serves and glorifies their great God and Savior.

Now that is perfection.

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Let’s be friends again…

Conservative French president Nicolas Sarkozy is visiting the United States to win the hearts of Americans after frosty former relationships. This turnaround is really a flashback of Revolutionary War days and memories of the Statue of Liberty.

George Washington won at Yorktown in large measure because 5,000 French troops under French General Rochambeau marched from Rhode Island (across New Jersey, camping a few hundred yards from our headquarters) and joined in the siege at Yorktown when British General Cornwallis surrendered. Received as a gift from the French in 1885, Lady Liberty was dedicated by President Grover Cleveland the following year.

Sarkozy’s visit recalls another Frenchman, statesman-historian Alexis DeTocqueville, who toured America in the 1830s seeking the reason for national greatness in so young a nation. His conclusions endure as a monumental testimony:

"…Christianity therefore reigns without obstacle, by universal consent; the consequence is, as I have before observed, that every principle of the moral world is fixed and determinate. I sought for the key to the greatness and genius of America in her harbors…; in her fertile fields and boundless forests; in her rich mines and vast world commerce; in her public school system and institutions of learning. I sought for it in her democratic Congress and in her matchless Constitution. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great."

Let us hope that Sarkozy will conclude the same.

David Virkler

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Face of King Tut Revealed

To some he is affectionately known as ‘The Golden Boy’. To others he is simply ‘King Tut’. But ‘The Guardian Unlimited’ ran a recent story revealing that some 85 years after the discovery of the boy king, Tutankhamun, the 3,000 year old mummy’s face was finally exposed to an ever curious world.

Apparently time’s exposure has ‘taken its toll on Tut’. But scientists are now trying to restore the mummy as best they can despite the face of the deceased 19-year old being the only portion still in decent shape. The opening and transferring of the body from the stone sarcophagus to a climate-controlled glass enclosure should help to slow down any further decay. Tut’s opening has also allowed scientists to know that he was apparently healthy and did not die by assassination or some serious injury as some thought.

The attempts of the early Egyptians to prepare for the next life through their unique embalming process remain a source of intrigue, as the continued interest reveals. The deceased would have major organs removed and saved as it was thought there was a guardian deity for each one. Often useful items for the next life were likewise entombed. And in the case of kings, most of their earthly treasure was included to ensure the same lavish life-style in the next life as they enjoyed in the past one.

Despite how famous and amazing these preservation attempts became, they failed to address something rather crucial in the mix. Their painstaking physical preparation for the next life was highly contrasted by their equal lack of spiritual readiness for the same.

In John 11 Jesus was summoned to heal a severely sick friend. Upon the Lord’s carefully timed arrival on the scene, Lazuarus was already in the tomb four days after having been wrapped from head to foot in mummy-like grave clothes, the standard preparation of the day. But when Jesus did arrive on the dreary scene, He called out to His Heavenly Father, resurrected His departed friend, and in verse 43 commanded the bystanders, "Loose him, and let him go."

Just prior to the outward public miracle, the Lord related to Lazarus’ grieving sister the basis for any successful life after death. In verse 25 He said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die." His great declaration was followed by a probing question. " Do you believe this?’" Then in turn came her affirmative answer of saving faith in verse 27, "Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world."

It has been said at death, "You can’t take it with you." That is of course correct in the physical material realm. But proper preparation for life after death can be taken to the grave by coming to the One that defeated sin - including both physical and spiritual death. And those who do that are then given a glimpse of what they will someday experience in 1 John 3:2. " Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is."

That is a glorious promise and obviously far beyond any human logic or comprehension. But those who will enjoy the blessings of that Heavenly life are still cautioned about the life they still lead in that third verse. "And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure."

Bill Breckenridge

Monday, November 5, 2007

Stars and Stripes …

On October 1, 2007, General Peter Pace stepped down as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. That same day, a visitor to the Vietnam War Memorial noticed something unusual at the Wall. Dr. Frank Wright, President of National Religious Broadcasters described it.

"A visitor noticed a small white index card resting on the ground. Something gleamed on the card, and the visitor bent down for a closer look. The card, which had the general’s four stars attached to it, said the following:

For Guido Farinaro, USMC
These are yours, not mine!
With love and respect,
Your Platoon Leader,
Peter Pace

It was dated October 1, 2007—the same day the general stepped down as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs! He had clipped his own stars to the index card, written a note, and left them at the Vietnam War memorial under the column that bears Farinaro’s name. There was no press conference or fanfare. The world might never have known if the visitor had not snapped several pictures and allowed them to be widely distributed.

Lance Corporal Guido Farinaro was a 19-year old from Bethpage, NY who served in Gen. Pace’s Golf Company, 5th Marine Platoon, during the Vietnam War. Pace was the Platoon leader, and there were 158 marines under his command. Lance Cpl. Farinaro was the first to die after Peter Pace took over; he took a sniper’s bullet that was intended for Pace."

General pace has given a great lesson of earthly and spiritual sacrifice. Whatever we have of earth’s blessings and heaven’s joys are because Christ "took our bullet" on the Cross. "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (II Corinthians 5:21). Isaiah spoke of Christ’s substitution. "But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5).

Revelation 4:9-11 describes the ultimate praise, "Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: ‘You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created’."

The old hymn summarizes our gratitude.

All glory and praise to the Lamb that was slain,
Who has borne all our sorrows and cleansed ev’ry stain.
Hallelujah, Thine the glory! Hallelujah, amen!
Hallelujah, Thine the glory! Revive us again.

David Virkler