Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Fixing Our Failing Infrastructure

It is no longer up for debate. The nation is in a certain decline, not just economically, but also physically!

Recently several governors have announced their support for the Building America's Future coalition, a public works advocacy group. The group is gaining influence, as it is backed by key state leaders like New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Pennsylvania's Ed Rendell, and Arnold Schwarzenegger of California.

The bipartisan group of governors is pushing public works as part of a potential second stimulus package geared at repairing the country's badly faltering highway and bridge system. Current estimates for fixing the infrastructure are said to exceed a trillion dollars. But proponents state that last year's bridge collapse in Minneapolis, which killed 13 people and injured 145, is only the beginning if something is not done and soon.

It is no secret that all material things begin to diminish from the moment of their creation, whether roadways or the vehicles traveling upon them. Unfortunately, the same is true of the human body. Although manufactured by God, its infrastructure eventually breaks down and dies due to the damaging effects of sin. But there is good news. The physical is but one part of man's makeup - the least important aspect, despite the heroic efforts often go into grooming and saving it.

In 2 Corinthians 5, the Apostle Paul addressed this subject and states the obvious bad news, but not at the exclusion of the good. His message is geared only to the Christian and begins at verse 16. "Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal."

In Romans 8:12-21, Paul also spoke of the creation's demise, but then revealed a future redemption for the same. "For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God."

While interesting, of far greater significance to any creating or perishing of earth's material infrastructure is the profound message of hope seen 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. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation."

It will require time and massive sums to repair America's highway system. But the reconstruction of a failing and faulty human heart can be fully and instantaneously fixed freely according to the words of Acts 16:31. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved."

The decision to accept Christ allows great architect of redemption's roadway to employ the believer on His sacred work crew thus allowing them to help build spiritual bridges for lost travelers.

Bill Breckenridge

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Messianic Complexes?

Have you carefully listened to the presidential primary candidates? If you have, you will assume that the political process is awash in super political saviors. They speak about abolishing poverty, rejuvenating education, bolstering our national security, energizing the economy, effecting positive change, transforming politics and infusing the system with honesty, cooperation and pervasive good will bringing youthful zeal, experiential wisdom or an artful blend of both.

It seems some can mangle the math, promising helpful spending while ignoring painful taxing. There is no free lunch, but some seem eaten up with a passion to please that is borne along on astounding rhetoric.

Perhaps these major candidates are so self assured that they feel somewhat messianic. Maybe they feel that ranting about great promise is simply expected in a fevered political season, or that somehow, some way they are uniquely gifted with near miracle-working prowess as no predecessor has been.

It’s little wonder that voters are often confused by promissory jargon as uttered by "fools rushing in where angels fear to tread."

Some sobering Scriptural insight would be a good dose of stability. Our first U.S. president, George Washington, had it right when, in his initial act as chief executive, he stopped to kiss the Bible, which was open to Psalm 127:1. "Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build." Psalm 144:15 promises, "Happy is that people, that is in such a case: yea, happy is that people, whose God is the Lord."

The prophets enjoined their people that flesh is weak, but God is strong. Jeremiah 17:5 warns, "Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the Lord."

Regarding national security, Psalm 20:7 says, "Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; But we will remember the name of the Lord our God."

Perhaps some candidates are spooked by an assumed public dislike for religious references in our secular society. If expressing their sincere spiritual sentiments wasn’t so politically threatening, they would say what every politician must surely know—that their burden is greater than they can bear, and true wisdom, power and strength is God-given as James 1:17 says. "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning."

Gerald Ford, sometimes called the "accidental president" since he was elected to neither the office of vice president nor president, had as his life’s verse Proverbs 3:5 & 6. "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."

King Solomon, successor to his father King David, had it right. "Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?" (I Kings 3:9).

A little spiritual humility never hurt any candidate and surely could do lots of good.

Dave Virkler

Monday, February 25, 2008

When A Pension Becomes A Living

The economy is sagging. Even all the politicians now freely admit it. And the ballooning financial crisis means far more than slumping home sales, empty gas tanks, and political ammo for those seeking office in November.

As the nation senses and feels the steady decline, some Americans are being forced to do something they never dreamed of. Those fortunate enough to have 401k type accounts are beginning to tap into what was to be their long-term financial security in the retirement years.

Fidelity Investments is among the nation's largest mutual fund providers. The company has said that 'hardship withdrawals' surged 17 percent in 2007 with record withdrawals occurring in December. A company spokesman stated, "What we're talking about is people spending their retirement now and lowering their standard of living when they retire." Experts also fear that, should the trend continue, many more Americans may have to rely solely on an already overburdened Social Security system.

Proper preparation is certainly admirable and even biblical as passages like Timothy 5:7-8 reveal. "But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." But in Matthew 6, Jesus addressed an over-emphasis on material things to the detriment of spiritual preparation. Verses 31-33 read, "Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you."

Then the Lord follows up with the logic for His own words and why it is folly to store up, get hung up, or look up to the fragile things of this world. In Matthew 6, and beginning with verse 19, He warns, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal."

Life is precious but all too fragile and temporary. To spend it on fading physical and material pursuits is not only foolish, it is eternally dangerous. Besides, in the final analysis only a few things can be fully known and fully relied upon. The first, and most crucial, has to with salvation and comes by way of 1 John 5:11-13. The Apostle wrote, "He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God."

Other biblical issues come by way of amazing knowable promises given to the believer in Christ. These, however, are post-salvation and are seen in Scripture passages like Matthew 6 and Ephesians 1. Matthew speaks of certain rewards that are guaranteed to those who "seek first the kingdom of God" by serving Christ. Verse 20 states, "but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal." Then another related promise of eternal security comes through the Apostle Paul's words in verses 13-14 of Ephesians chapter one. "In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory."

The U.S., and world economy for that matter, will forever be prone to ups and downs, gains and losses, peaks and valleys. But all whose spiritual foundation is firm know that God is in control. They alone know and understand the reality of Ephesians 1:11-12. "In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory."

God people are indeed unique and special, since they know full well that they have a purpose that will last into the next life and is higher than simple economic survival or prosperity in this life.

Bill Breckenridge

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Kosovo and Budding Trees

Kosovo has proclaimed its independence from Serbia. While the U.S. and some European nations have supported its cause and recognized it, Kosovo’s independence lights a fuse of spreading secession unrest that focuses prophetic truth. Russia is particularly grieved as a friend of Serbia, and suppressing similar departures among its own border areas is now more difficult. Spain is chilled at the thought of Basque nationalists following suit. Students of Islam see a Muslim power infusion as more Balkan areas become harbors of radicalism.

Apart from the political reactions, a prophetic trend is accelerated. We might call it "end times nationalism." Luke 21:29-33 seems to predict a national proliferation. "‘Then He spoke to them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near. Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place.’"

Most literalist Bible students associate the "fig tree…budding" with a rebirth of national Israel, rightly so since figs are directly linked with Israel as Jeremiah 24 outlines. In that passage, good and bad figs are associated with all of contemporary Israel. The good will return, "For I will set My eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land…" (Jer. 24:6).

In the Luke passage, Christ also spoke of "all the trees" budding concurrently with Israel. Most Middle East countries are modern nations with ancient names that "budded" in the 1940s—Israel in 1948, Jordan and Syria in 1946, and Lebanon in 1943. (Modern Egypt was established in 1922 and Iraq in 1932.) As the Cold War faded, the old Soviet Union split into 15 individual countries. Czechoslovakia divided two ways, and Yugoslavia split six ways. Now, independent Kosovo makes another new nation. It’s a time of "all the trees" budding.

Christ declared that the generation seeing this unique proliferation would be the one to see the coming of His Kingdom. While the time frame is never precisely known, it is reasonable to conclude that someone alive in the 1940s is likely to be alive when Christ returns.

The context of Luke 21:28 is a thrilling encouragement. "Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near."

Dave Virkler

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

No Reason

Murderer Steven Kazmierczak, who brutally killed five and then himself at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, fits no known murderer profile. One newspaper report headlined, "He was such a nice guy." Although under previous psychiatric treatment, he was a good student and well liked by his teachers and fellow classmates. His girlfriend said he called her at midnight on Valentine’s Day to say goodbye and request that she remember him.
Psychologists and crime investigators will ponder this one for a long time since the usual motives appear to be missing. The man did understand guns and how to use them. He carefully plotted his crime in a pre-meditated act rather than an immediate explosive eruption of anger.

The probe will reveal what drugs he might have taken in the past, what musical and other influences he was under and what persons offended him. Family background and disruptions will surely be investigated.

Perhaps bizarre outbursts like this one have spiritual explanations seemingly too simple and much too religious for secular minds to grasp, much less admit. Was he into the occult? Did he open his life to demonic influence? Was he crushed by guilt for past deeds? Was he ashamed of who he was, or did he misunderstand his creation by God with its implicit dignity? Was he confused about a life after death and inevitably facing God after death?

This much we know: Satan is a killer. Christ called him that when He criticized hypocritical Pharisees. "You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it" (John 8:44-45).

At the least, everyone has an inborn capability of the worst crimes as Romans 3:23 says: "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." We are not birthed in perfection and then attain flaws. We begin as spiritual defects and must move toward forgiveness, redemption and responsibility to God and man. Psalm 58:3 tells us, "The wicked are estranged from the womb; They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies."

Put even more forcefully, Psalm 51:5 says, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me." It’s a hereditary heart problem that afflicts everyone. "For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies" (Matt 15:19). Indeed, "The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9).

Somehow, Stephen Kazmierczak’s spiritual deliverance eluded him, and his spiritual plunge took him and five others into eternity. His potential solution is available to everyone for deliverance, forgiveness of sin, a release of guilt and oppression and an infusion of new life. Jesus’ word is both analytical and redemptive. "The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly" (John 10:10).

Dave Virkler

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Washington and Lincoln

Their birthdays are jointly celebrated giving a commercial and vacation flourish to a three-day weekend. Their memories are mostly anchored to political history, but their spiritual dimensions deserve our attention, especially when some ask whether or not they were true Christians. I will share few facts and quotes, and let you be the judge.

George Washington held religious exercises daily in his military tent for the eight years of the Revolutionary War. He hand wrote a week-long personal prayer schedule. Monday’s includes, "…I have sinned and done very wickedly, be merciful to me, Oh God, and pardon me for Jesus Christ’s sake. … Thou gavest Thy Son to die for me; and hast given me the assurance of salvation …" Clergyman Henry Muhlenberg, a Lutheran pastor in the Valley Forge area, wrote, " … For [Washington]respects God’s Word, believes in the atonement through Christ, and bears himself in humility and gentleness."

Washington was inaugurated as the first President of the United States with his finger pointing to Psalm 127:1. "Except the Lord build the house they labor in vain that build." His first official act was to stoop his 6’2" frame and kiss the Bible. Washington’s Mount Vernon tomb is inscribed with John 11:25. "… I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live…"

Abraham Lincoln’s personal faith is a bit more difficult to determine since in his early years he failed to ascribe much value to preaching or preachers. His son Willie died, and the Civil War raged savagely on bringing Lincoln to Gettysburg for his famous address, his attitude changed, and he said he became a Christian. Of the Bible, Lincoln told a friend, "Take all you can on reason and the rest by faith." To Baltimore church members who presented him a Bible, he wrote, "…I believe the Bible is the best gift God’s has given to man. All the good Savior gave to the world was communicated through this book. But for this book we wouldn’t know right from wrong."

The last legislation Lincoln signed was to include "In God we trust" on our national coins. The Lincoln’s final words before the assassin’s bullet shattered his brain were spoken to his wife who reported, "He said he wanted to visit the Holy Land and see those places hallowed by the footprints of the Savior. He was saying there was no city he so much desired to see as Jerusalem."

Rev. Phineas Gurley of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church wrote, "I have had frequent and intimate conversations with him on the Subject of the Bible and the Christian religion, when he could have had no motive to deceive me, and I considered him sound not only on the truth of the Christian religion but on all its fundamental doctrines and teachings. And more than that, in the latter days of his chastened and weary life, after the death of his son Willie, and his visit to the battlefield of Gettysburg, he said, with tears in his eyes, that he had lost confidence in everything but God, and that he now believed his heart was changed, and that he loved the Savior, and, if he was not deceived in himself, it was his intention soon to make a profession of religion.

It is reported that Lincoln intended to publicly profess Christ in Gurley’s church on Easter Sunday, but he was mortally shot on Good Friday evening at Ford’s Theater.

The written witness of two of our greatest presidents apparently indicates their personal salvation. In Lincoln’s case, his profession would have made it much clearer. Our personal opportunity of public profession is a priceless treasure.

Jesus said, "…whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God" (Luke 12:8).

Dave Virkler

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Love, love, love…

Valentine’s Day causes an annual frenzy of card buying, chocolate purchasing, and emotional sentiments. At the greeting card rack, I could scarcely pass through the crush of husbands and boyfriends soberly pondering the proper card for that special person.

Recently, at a church in which I spoke, I received a question from an 11-year old boy. "What is love?" he asked -three words requiring a lifetime here and eternity to come to understand and explain. My answer was simple. I quoted him a three-word answer from a short New Testament book that mentions love 41 times. "God is love." It's from 1 John 4:16, which says in full, "And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him."

Generally love is defined in three aspects. First is "eros," from which we derive "erotic" or "erotica." It’s a passion thing, not necessarily bad or good, but usually thought of in raging lust of some sort. Eros is not found in the New Testament.

Second, "phileo," which is found in the New Testament, is defined as "friendship love" or "affectionate love in the finest sense." Christ is described as showing this toward Lazarus at his grave. "Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, ‘See how He loved him!’" (John 11:35-36). It is also a factor from and to God regarding His redeemed children. "For the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God" (John 16:27-28).

The term for love most often found in the New Testament is "agape" love. It is exemplified in John 3:16. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."

Agape love is not, however, always God’s love as seen in John 3:19. "And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil." This love is love for its own sake. When it is used of God’s love, it means He has extended His grace towards us in Christ based on nothing but His own initial redemptive plan. No mushy sentiment moved Him in our direction. As Romans 5:8 puts it, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." And in John 4:19, we read "We love Him because He first loved us."

The point is that God’s love in Christ originally was a one-way street—loving the unlovely, the rebellious, the obnoxious, the sinner! His agape love saw us for what we were and uniquely planned to make us what we could become—newborn lovers of Him out of sheer gratitude.
The Gospel song "The Love of God" best tells it:

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

Dave Virkler

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Does God Justify Torture?

For several days there was reaction to the Vice President speaking out on the controversial subject. And now one of the United States' top judges said in an interview in Britain that interrogators can inflict pain to obtain critical information about an imminent terrorist threat. The form of so-called 'torture' being analyzed is 'waterboarding'.

Waterboarding involves strapping a person down and pouring water over his or her cloth-covered face. Doing so creates sensation of drowning. It is supposedly so brutal that it has been condemned by nations around the world. But in 2002-2003 waterboarding was authorized for three al Qaeda detainees because of widespread belief among U.S. intelligence officials that catastrophic attacks were imminent. Defending his position, the Vice President stated, "it's a good thing" that top al Qaeda figures underwent the harsh interrogation tactic in 2002 and 2003 because the 'forced' information helped protect the country and saved thousands of American lives.

When discussing the Bible and spiritual things, it is never long before the subject of punishment surfaces in the form of a place called hell. Those to whom the place is frightening or distasteful may write it off as fantasy. Others may believe it may be real, but not all that bad. Then too, many will admit to its reality, but never to their being the ones deserving of going there. After all, they are not as wicked or deserving as some murdering al Qaeda terrorist. Or are they?

The same Bible that describes the unimaginable glories of a heaven for the righteous shares as much, or more, on the place of torment for the unrighteous. The big question is, just who is deserving of what and why?

Surprisingly, all deserve hell as the Bible has revealed in Romans 3:23. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God". Chapter 10 makes it more precise, beginning with verse 10. "There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside."

The Bible warns man that hell is real, terrible and permanent! Jesus Himself made that abundantly clear in Matthew 10:28 when He said, "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."

But God does not torture or force anyone to go or not go there. He simply and effectively warns men of their lost condition and repeatedly offers His alternative way out. Nowhere is this made clearer than in perhaps the best known Bible verse of all. Jesus declares in John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." Verse 17 continues, "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved."

Despite what Scripture reveals, some will still maintain that God is love and therefore has no business in 'torturing' souls for all eternity. They are dead right, but tragically wrong. God is love. That is exactly why He allowed his own Son to be tortured and sacrificed on the cross as Paul relates in Romans 5:8. "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

God's love for a rebellious and sinful race is beyond human comprehension. But so is His absolute holy, righteous and just nature. Were He able to accept sin, His Son would not have had to die to forgive it. When Abraham was pleading with God in Genesis 18 to spare the wicked city for the sake of the few righteous there, he posed a great question to God. In verse 25 he asked, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" The question was presented because Abraham knew the obvious answer to his own question.

God does not unjustly condemn or torture. He first warns and offers the way of escape. His judgement never comes for revenge or any other illogical or selfish reason. When ultimately forced to inflict wrath on an unrepentant sinner, it is because He is bound to His own eternal attributes to do so. His ways have always been right, fair and just and forever will be.

Those who continue to doubt or scoff at the concept of eternal wrath had better reconsider the offer of John 3:16 while weighing the words of Hebrews 10:31. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."

Bill Breckenridge

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Is This Really Necessary?

"Healthy Lifestyle Is the Secret to Longer Life." Some things should simply not have to be said and this is certainly is one of them. Even those with a minimal level of common sense should instinctively get that.

But obvious, or not, it has been studied and reported on by Laurel Yates, a doctor of internal medicine at Harvard's Brigham and Women?s Hospital in Boston. The research followed 2,357 men and found that a healthy 70-year-old, who had never smoked, had normal blood pressure and weight and exercised up to four times a week had a 54 percent chance of living until age 90. Further. It was also revealed that obesity reduced the odds of reaching 90 by 26%. The study claimed that genes probably determine about 25 percent of a life span but that 75% still depended on individual lifestyles.

The Bible has also stated many 'seemingly' obvious things. Most evident is that man is born in sin and spiritually dead, a condition that eventually kills physically regardless of the length or quality of his or her physical life. But Scripture does promise certain general benefits through healthy and godly living. And perhaps the cost of the above study could have been used elsewhere by reading and heeding what is outlined in Proverbs 3:7-8. "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."

But most importantly sin also utterly destroys spiritually and eternally as passages like Romans 5:12 forcefully convey. "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned." Other verses like Romans 6:23a are equally blunt. "For the wages of sin is death." It is interesting to note that the Bible shows in 1Timothy 5:6 how it is possible to be physically fine and, at the same time, spiritually deceased. ?But she who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives.?

Sin?s effects are again quite obvious. But the solution to some physical ills and overall spiritual health is expressed plainly and clearly in passages like 1 John 5:11-13. "And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God."

God?s word admits that caring for the physical body is somewhat helpful. Doing so can make life longer and more enjoyable and can allow for more and better Christian service. But His main focus has been, and always will be, forgiveness of sin, spiritual health and maturity, faithful service and eternal life - all principles clearly summed up in 1 Timothy 4:7-8. "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."

In other words, for the natural man: "Healthy Lifestyle Is the Secret to Longer Life". But for a believer in Christ, "A Healthy Christian Lifestyle Is the Secret to a More Abundant Lifestyle Now and the Blessings of A Future Life in Heaven".

Bill Breckenridge

Friday, February 8, 2008

A Mother’s Love

Looking at the cute face of 11-month old Kyson Stowell you’d never guess he had been torn out of his mother’s arms and thrown 150 yards into an open field by a tornado. Motherly love and self sacrifice reached its apogee arising from the depths of that tornado’s fury in Castalian Springs, Tennesee.

As the killer storm approached, Kyson’s mother Kerri was on the phone with her fiancĂ©’s sister. She said that she was taking shelter in the bathtub clutching baby Kyson. Then she called her mother, and the cell phone went dead in the roar of the tornado. When rescuer’s arrived at the address they found only sparse rubble. Giving the nearby pasture a final search, they saw what appeared to be a doll. And then it moved. It was baby Kyson, lacerated but alive. His mother’s lifeless body was discovered nearby. Kerry Stowell’s fiancĂ© believes she tried to keep her son safe as the storm closed. "She would have given her life to protect her baby," he said.

In the raw pain of death, a miracle has emerged. As I read this moving story, another account of an old minister came to mind. I pulled down the tattered 1923 "Cyclopedia of Religious Anecdotes" from my shelf and read again the illustration "from a sermon in the Brooklyn Eagle." I share it with you as an illustration of human self-sacrifice reflecting the greatest sacrifice of all.

"Do you not remember Norman McLeod’s story of the Highland mother? She was a widow; taking her babe she started to walk across the mountains, some ten miles, to the home of a relative. A terrible snowstorm suddenly fell upon the hills, and little by little the mother’s strength failed. Next day, when men found her body it was almost stripped of clothing. Her chilled and dying hands had wrapped her clothing about the child, which was found in a sheltering nook, safe and sound. Years afterward the son of the minister who had conducted the mother’s funeral went to Glasgow to preach a preparatory sermon. Somehow he was reminded of the story he had often heard his father tell. Instead of preaching the sermon he had prepared, he simply told the story of the Highland mother’s love. A few days later he was summoned to the bedside of a dying man. ‘You don’t know me,’ said the man. ‘Although I have lived in Glasgow many years, I have never attended a church. The other day I happened to pass your door as the snow came down. I heard the singing and slipped into a back seat. There I heard the story of the widow and her son.’ The man paused, his voice choking, his eyes were filling. ‘I am that son,’ he sobbed at last. ‘Never did I forget my mother’s love, but I never saw the love of God in giving Himself for me until now. It was God that made you tell that story. My mother did not die in vain. Her prayer is answered.’"

John 15:13 sums it up for all of us. "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends."

Of Christ’s sacrifice, Galatians 1:3-5 says, "Grace be to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."

David Virkler

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Falling Apples

In describing a son, a great man once observed, "The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree." Another stated of a boy, "He’s a chip off the old block." Another saying, perhaps more familiar, is "Like father, like son." Recent Super Bowls are living athletic proofs of these sayings.
The Manning name has graced football for years. Archie was a college and NFL star who received numerous awards. At his college alma mater, "Ole Miss," he was named Quarterback of the Century. Manning played ball with the Saints, Vikings and Oilers and was named to the Pro Bowl in 1978 and 1979.

Archie and his wife Olivia, who is involved in extensive charitable work, had three sons. Their oldest, Cooper Manning, had a great high school football career as a wide receiver and probably would have been a college and NFL star himself until a serious spinal cord disorder took him off the field. It was a stunning blow that he accepted graciously. Second son Peyton Manning is quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts and was named MVP in their defeat of the Chicago Bears in last year’s Super Bowl. Youngest son Eli Manning led the New York Giants to their incredible win over the favored New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII a few days ago.

Is all this simply coincidental or accidental, just a weird twist of family fate, or is there some familial tie that binds them? The Mannings’ parental imprint is astonishing. These boys vicariously lived and breathed football all their young years as dad played so much. Mrs. Manning evidently impressed young Eli with her acceptance of the lonely disciplines of a football family.

There is a verse from wise old Solomon that applies here. Proverbs 22:6 says, "Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it." "Train up" is the translation of a Hebrew word meaning "to narrow" or "to discipline." "Way" simply means "a road."

Hebrews 12:7-11 has a fabulous expansion of the principle of the disciplined narrow road. "If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it."(emphasis mine)

These last two Super Bowls are really the "afterward" in the Manning family. The word "chastening" means "child rearing" or "training up a child," and it carries the idea of discipline. And a disciple is one who is disciplined. There seems to be a nutty notion abroad that a child is benefited by giving him unfettered freedom. Don’t correct the child, just let him loose. You see it all the time in restaurants, shopping centers and on playgrounds. The thinking today seems to be "Don’t crowd the child; you’ll hurt him somehow." A wise man once stated, "The child that argues with his mother over putting on his overshoes has no time left to build a snowman." Another said, "He has freedom of the seas who is prisoner to the compass."

The Bible speaks about youthful discipline. "The rod and rebuke give wisdom, But a child left to himself brings shame to his mother. … Correct your son, and he will give you rest; Yes, he will give delight to your soul" (Prov. 29:15 & 17). This rod is one of correction, according to Prov. 22:15. "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of correction shall drive it far from him."

If my father were disciplining me today as he did when I was a boy and the state-mandated rules forbidding spanking were enforced, he would probably be spending lots of time in a jail cell under some liberal judge’s ruling.

Check out how many missionary kids become missionaries and how many pastors’ boys become pastors. That’s why we shouldn’t criticize missionaries who have large families as I’ve heard some do. "How can we support all those kids on the field?" Support them willingly because they are raising more missionaries.

My dad was a preacher, and so am I. As the Manning boys were imprinted with sports, I was imprinted with Scripture and service as Dad served others in ministry. A healthy, guided childhood produces a wonderful generational continuity—a splendid example of which is seen in tandem Super Bowls.

David Virkler

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

So Much For Greatness

It began with the greatest season, by the greatest team, using the greatest offense and propelled by what some feel to be the greatest quarterback and coach of all time.

And now there is talk of the greatest catch in the greatest Super Bowl thrown by a quarterback from the greatest family in NFL history. Even the size of the audience was the greatest to ever watch a sporting event in America. Then there also arguably the greatest Super Bowl loss and upset ever seen.

But on a single Sunday night in Arizona several aspects of certain football immortality came to a screeching halt. The unlikely victory by New York's Giants over the mighty New England Patriots, not only prevented seasonal perfection, but likely stifled the expected title of the greatest team in NFL history. They will now be known as very good, one of the best, a dynasty, but not necessarily the greatest to ever grace the gridiron.

Greatness is a term that is sometimes used a little too loosely. True greatness should be applied only when no other descriptive term can be applied. And greatness is often used to label people or events that are far from legendary in their true impact or overall importance.

In any discussion on ultimate greatness, the Creator of the universe must be present as His greatness is fully unique and unquestioned. In His Word He uses the term 'great' to describe Himself and what He has done for a lost and needy humanity. The kid's dinner table prayer said it well. "God is good. God is great".

Ephesians 2 reveals the magnitude of His infinite love for those without hope apart from His great grace in Christ. Verse 4 begins, "But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus."

Then Peter 1:2-4 reveals what is in store for those who have become new creations in Christ. "Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust."

Much more could be said on the subject God's unparalleled greatness. But to narrow it down to the core essentials, God's great love has fully overcome man's great sin. Further, He has given to His followers a great enabling power allowing them to live a victorious and godly life.

And finally, God has been careful to offer great warnings like the one in Hebrews 2. There He presents the ultimate question to life's greatest single decision - to accept or reject the sacrifice of His Son. Verse 3 is clear, concise, and clearly convicting. "How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation."

Hopefully all who hear the good news of Jesus Christ will trust Him as savior when they come to grasp His great sacrifice as revealed in John 15:13. "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends."

Bill Breckenridge

Monday, February 4, 2008

Historic Imperfection

It was a perfect season, until imperfection reared its ugly head in the final minutes of America's biggest sporting event. When the dust settled, the surging New York Giants defeated the supposedly invincible New England Patriots by 3 points before a stunned crowd and record national audience. The upstart Giants were not supposed to survive earlier contests in Dallas and Green Bay, but they had. The odds of Giants going all the way were 20 to 1, but they won. They were not supposed to beat arguably the best quarterback and team of all time, but they did. It seemed nearly impossible, but it wasn't!

Friday night before the Super Bowl, I showed a movie clip at a youth program at out local church. It has become my all-time favorite - bar none. Its title, interestingly, is 'Facing the Giants'. The story is about a small Christian high school and their embattled Christian coach fighting for his job. Coach Taylor's personal struggles lead to a profound revival in his faith which in turn lead to a spiritual renewal in his team and then the entire student body.

Long story short, the 36 smallish members of the Eagles make it to the state championship and face the mighty 3-time champion Giants. They were outnumbered, outweighed, out-experienced and out-classed, or were they? The coach had earlier stressed, and convinced his boys, about a new purpose for the team's efforts. They would play to glorify God. They would praise Him if the won. And they would praise Him when they lost. And praise Him they did. And win the big game they did, as well. Like the unexpected Super Bowl victory of the NY Giants, the heavy underdog Eagles faced a superior foe, but prevailed and accomplished the seeming impossible.

In the locker room following the contest, a humbled and sobered Coach Taylor went from player to player asking each the same simple question. "What is impossible when God is on your side?" To a man, each player answered the same. "Nothing, coach." The team then kneels together in prayer to thank God and further glorify His name.

A sideline throughout the movie is the inability for the coach and his wife to have children for 4 long years. That too was rectified along with having some of their severe material needs met by grateful parents who appreciated the spiritual impact made on their kids by the coach. The film ends by focusing in on a plaque over the Taylor's fireplace inscribed with the words, "With God, nothing is impossible."

Coach Taylor's Eagles represent a fictional account as wonderfully conceived and produced by the Sherwood Baptist Church in Georgia. But the principle conveyed throughout is anything but fictional. It is Biblical.

In Matt 19:24-26, Jesus was dealing with a man who was unable to part with his material goods in order to follow the Lord. After the disappointing turnout, the Lord turned to His disciples and stated in verse 24, "And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

When His stunned followers heard His perplexing words they responded as seen in verse 25. "When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, "Who then can be saved?" The answer in verse 26 was equally stunning, but reassuring. "But Jesus looked at them and said to them, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

The Bible constantly reveals the God of the impossible and shows His great sovereign power over all things. But there is one thing described as impossible when dealing with Him. It is spelled out in Hebrews 11, the great 'Hall of Faith' as it is known. Verse 5 speaks of the special faith of Enoch and how he fully pleased God. But the following verse relates the one impossible thing as far as God is concerned. Verse 6 reads, "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." It is possible to deal with the plague and lasting consequences of human sin, but quite impossible without sincere saving faith in Jesus Christ in the mix.

The Patriots saw their hopes and dreams of perfection dissolve before their very eyes. But those on the roster of God achieve a level of lasting perfection when fully justified in the fashion spoken of in Hebrews 10:14. "For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified."

Bill Breckenridge