Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Lowly Carp

Fishing for fish and fishing for men formed a unique combination in my childhood years. Recently, in my life’s major effort of fishing for men as Jesus said (Luke 5:10), I returned to my boyhood hometown of Baldwinsville, New York. To my great surprise, I discovered a rather demeaned fishing catch had taken a stunning turn.

A recent edition of a periodical called Canal Times, which touts the verities of the New York Barge Canal and its current recreational traffic and associated events, featured an article on a carp fishing tournament. The venue was, of all places, Baldwinsville, NY. Other carp tournaments are popping up in many other places.

Carp? Yes, carp! That despised junk fish that, in our youth, we caught accidentally, and, if caught on purpose, received the disdain of older fishing experts who muttered "Carp!" under their breath as a muted curse word. Carp were not released but given a swift deathblow so as not to irritate any future fisherman.

Now, things have changed. Carp have long been a prime sport fish in Europe and the Far East. They originally came to the U.S. as a food fish. A friend in Baldwinsville shared how the Seneca River carp population began. A fish farmer’s river cages of carp broke in a storm, and the escapees multiplied exponentially. Locals have converted from carp hatred to carp commercialism.

The Baldwinsville tournament was held May 13-17, and competitors came from France, England, Canada and 12 different U.S. states. Winners Scott Townson of Texas and Tim Creque of Ohio landed 172 carp totaling 2,839 lbs., which netted them $6,600 in cash prizes plus other benefits. Total tonnage for the tournament was over 36,000 lbs. This is not personally surprising. I recall my younger brother, Jim, with heels dug in, battling a huge Seneca River carp for several minutes before the fish broke off the line, insuring Jim wouldn’t be dragged into the water.

The carp’s dignity has skyrocketed since our youthful days. The fish hasn’t changed; the fishermen have. It’s all a matter of valuation.

Spiritually, human ethnic groups and races haven’t changed, but a more even Biblical valuation has boosted some from being viewed indifferently to being seen as prized missionary targets. Years ago, some groups were devalued because of skin color, culture, obscurity or just being different. But Christian evangelism should never be discriminatory. The Apostle Paul preached to the Athenians, "And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings,so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us" (Acts 17:26-28).

It is consistent with Christ’s Great Commission given to formerly ethnically haughty Jewish converts, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15-16).

Fishing for men by sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ demands a non-discriminatory policy of believing that Christ died for all men everywhere despite perceived national, racial or cultural obstacles. If former carp non-lovers can lift their angling sights beyond their prejudices, then all believers everywhere can embrace the basic truth that "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).

Dave Virkler

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Bodily Fitness = Increased Spirituality?

For some Christians, the Bible offers physical as well as spiritual guidelines. The reason for this growing emphasis on the body is simple. People are beginning to identify a connection between being physically fit and being spiritually well.

Kim Melchor, the facilitator of the First Place program at Taylor Road Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama put it this way. "God is the potter. He made our bodies, we don't own them, and we need to serve God as long as possible on this earth. Making positive, healthy choices will be a glorification to Him."

In recent years, many churches have added health-oriented programs and some have even invested in special exercise equipment to make fitness easier for interested members to achieve. Melchor also stated, "Putting food, exercise and Christ in the proper order, we can be healthier and be there for God, our church, our families and our communities."

Few doubt the importance of meeting life’s physical demands. Jesus knew this and acted upon it in Mark 8 when He fed five thousand hungry listeners. The One who created man knew full well that ears become dull when the stomach becomes empty.

In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Paul spoke of the physical body and its connection to spirituality. Although the context was moral purity, the principle of honoring God through the body is still conveyed. “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's.” No Christian has the right to abuse his or her body since one’s physical condition can have a direct bearing on a relationship to God and the ability to serve Him fully.

While the benefits of overall physical fitness are obvious, for the Christian, this must be kept in proper balance. Paul wrote to young Timothy and clearly stated the priority order. In 1Timothy 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.”

Then too, the Lord, who understands the human body as only the Creator-God can, reminds His followers in Matthew 6 to never place physical issues above spiritual wellness. In verse 25 he declares, "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on.” His point was basic. Meeting physical needs should never distract from spiritual pursuits.

Finally, Jesus summarized the entire matter, and every other related issue as well, in verses 32-33. “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.”

Bill Breckenridge

Saturday, May 24, 2008

An Appreciation for Memorial Day

Formerly observed on May 30 regardless of the day of the week, Memorial Day has drifted to an observance on the last Monday of May concluding a three-day weekend. Perhaps this revision has dampened the harsh reality of what its observance means.

Officially recognized as having begun in Waterloo, NY on May 5, 1866, it was originally called Decoration Day. It came to be observed on May 30 because that was not the anniversary of any particular battle. Leaning a bit on ancient Greek practices of honoring the heroic dead with flowers and probably because springtime produced so many, the May 30 date stuck until the U.S. Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill, which included a three-day observance for President's Day, Veteran's Day and Memorial Day.

In my youth, Memorial Day, with its abundance of flowery cemetery adornments, punctuated my memories uniquely because May 30 is also my birthday. Further, my parents were in the greenhouse business, which seldom allowed any family celebration on the actual day.

I felt a bit of regret at not having the usual birthday fuss. When I grew older, I learned that any personal sacrifice paled in comparison to those of brave men and women who would never celebrate another earthly birthday-ever!

In my high school days, I played in the band, and we marched into various cemeteries to conclude Memorial Day parades, often hearing eloquent speeches exalting the somber sacrifices of the war dead. Many of those ceremonies concluded with my answering the lead trumpeter as an echo from behind a distant tombstone in the playing of "Taps". Mature appreciation for the blood shed for our nation was ample reward for the birthday inconvenience.

Somehow, the sacrifice of our armed forces and the ultimate sacrifice of Christ mingled in my understanding, especially when the old patriotic "Battle Hymn of the Republic" contained the phrase, "As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free, His truth is marching on…"

During the Civil War conflict, substitutes could be bought or simply volunteered if a draftee had unusual obligations at home. A young man went to the front in place of a man with family and children and fell in battle. The grateful father traveled to the battlefield and found the young man's grave to decorate it. A passerby saw this and asked questions. "Father?" "No." "Brother?" "No.""Relative?" "No." Finally exhausting the possibilities, the grave decorator stood and told him the story. Later, the questioner passed by the fresh grave to find the decorator had placed a crude sign that simply read, "He died for me."

During World War II, blue and red stars were hung in windows indicating family members in the service. A gold star meant the family member had paid the ultimate price and would not be coming home. One Christmas, a father and son were walking in near the edge of a town, and the dad told his son the meaning of the stars. Where the buildings thinned and they came to into the open, the boy looked up and saw the evening star just appearing in the cold dark sky. "Oh, look Daddy. It looks like God gave His Son, too."

This Memorial Day, I hope every American will soberly note the human sacrifices that have made us free and kept us free, and, more importantly, be grateful for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ who "gave himself for our sins that He might deliver us from this present evil world" (Galatians 1:4).

As John 8:34-36 says, "Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Dave Virkler

Friday, May 23, 2008

The New Trend - “Hypermiling”

They call it ‘Hypermiling’. And like the name might suggest, it is a system of getting the very most out every precious gallon of gasoline. And recently several experts in the field met to compete and stretch the limits of what a normal vehicle can achieve if driven according to this increasingly popular method.

The event was called the ‘Hybridfest MPG Challenge’. It consisted of a 20-mile race through the streets of Madison, Wisconsin, with the victor being dubbed, ‘Most Efficient Driver In The World’. This year’s favorite was Wayne Gerdes, who himself coined the term ‘Hypermiling’. He and these other ‘fuel gurus’ do everything imaginable to squeeze mileage from their vehicles. For starters, they remove everything in their vehicle that is not screwed down to lessen any gas-consuming weight. Some of them might even consider dieting if that would help. Other methods include no air conditioning or defrosters, drifting to stops, gentle acceleration, drafting behind 18 wheelers, over-inflating tires, driving well under speed limits, and using the ‘death turn’ – a process of taking exit ramps at dangerously high speeds to avoid braking and to maximum vehicle drifting to the max.

When asked what this type of driving requires, Gerdes said, “It is like a great baseball home run hitter who needs strong wrists, foot control, hand-eye coordination, anticipation and exquisite timing. It's like a moving chess game, where the pieces aren't stationary." But when this year’s contest concluded, Wayne came in on top with an astounding 180 mpg – a feat that earned him a magazine subscription to Green Car Journal and a $25 gas card – something which may just last him through the entire summer!

Achieving exceptional results in any field requires knowledge, motivation, and dedication. This is equally true in spiritual matters. While salvation comes by God’s grace, and through faith, any subsequent maturation comes by diligent and serious efforts. Peter makes God’s will clear along these lines in 1 Peter 2:2, “Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby.” Then too, in 2 Timothy 2:15 God’s expectations are also clearly taught. “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Christian growth after the new birth is not optional. (2 Peter 3:18)

The desire to succeed is designed into the human condition. Accordingly, most will spare no effort or expense to get anything they really want. But for Christians, spiritual maturity and Christ-likeness should be life’s primary pursuit above any worldly prize. But this does not come easy. It may well be more difficult than anything else in life, and for good reason, according to 1 Peter 5:8. “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”

True attempts at godly growth are generally met with demonic resistance. God’s adversary despises Christian maturity as one of his greatest threats. But those who battle the enemy, and live fully for God’s glory, find their victory coming through the Holy Spirit’s weapon of choice in 2 Timothy 3. Verse 16 reveals Scripture’s abilities and verse 17 its results. “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.”

With proper techniques, equipment and dedication, a stunning 180 miles per gallon is within reach. While highly impressive, its benefits are only economical and temporal. But when believers dedicate themselves without reserve to godly growth and living, their rewards become eternal. In addition, many of those things seen by the world as astounding and beyond imagining can come as no shock to the child of God - a Scriptural truth from the lips of the Lord in Mark 10:27. ”But Jesus looked at them and said, "With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible."

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Another Flurry of Monster Disasters

Between the massive cyclone in Thailand, the killer earthquake in China, and even the costly tornadoes in the U.S., people are wondering just what in the world is going on? Is this all somehow related or even prophetic? Or is it simply random acts of natural occurrences that suddenly strike and send unsuspecting souls into eternity – ready or not?

The Asian cyclone, at this point, may have cost 100,000 lives or more, while China’s earthquake has reached the 41,000 fatalities mark and that figure will likely grow. And this does not even include the loss of life that will certainly come due to disease and famine. The carnage is beyond words, that is, except any words of prayer uttered on behalf of survivors and those who assist them in the coming days.

The Bible does indicate that the perilous last days before Christ’s return would include fierce events in nature. And whether or not the above disasters are part of that Scriptural warning system depends on whom you ask. But one thing is for certain. Every life is precious to God and each death, regardless how it comes or when, will be followed eventually by divine judgment!

Hebrews 10 briefly explains why death is so very serious and not because of any painful disease or some other physical decline. Verse 31 of the chapter reveals an unmistakable and severest of warnings. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” For any questioning why that is, they need only to turn back one chapter and see verse 27. “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” And if they are at all cloudy on why God’s judgment is of utmost importance, they should consider Jesus’ own words. He states, in no uncertain terms in Matthew 10:28, “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” – hell being a place of literal, unimaginable and eternal agony.

During and after any catastrophic world event, there will be some that truly sympathize and care deeply about nameless strangers with whom they have never met or ever will. Their reaction is often a willingness to give of their own resources to help relieve human suffering. Hopefully this wonderful outreach will also stimulate a second reaction - a true willingness to evaluate their own spiritual condition and their preparedness to face some unexpected catastrophe along with a sudden entrance into eternity.

For Christians, sacrificial generosity to meet the material needs of the afflicted is more than inspirational and kind. It, along with fervent prayer, is their duty and should be the natural response and evidence of their salvation. Their actions of love should be motivated by the same and by the reality of Jesus’ words own Matthew 25:40. “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.'

But for those outside of God’s family, while their giving is helpful and commendable, it does not bring about any saving merit before God. Ephesians 2:8-9 explains why. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

Only trusting in Christ’s sacrificial work can allow anyone meet the lone requirement of a holy Creator to confidently stand as fully justified before Him. But salvation also allows any good works pointed to our fellow man to become literal acts of worship presented to a loving God. And these same efforts will someday bring eternal rewards, replacing any former temporary benefits or satisfaction.

Proverbs 27 speaks to the absolute folly of assuming a lengthy life complete with long-term peace and safety. The first verse of the chapter states, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.” And in the New Testament, James adds his support. In chapter he relates how utterly foolish and presumptuous this outlook is, not to mention being viewed as sinful in God’s estimation. Verse 13 reads, ”Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit"; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that." But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”

Life at times brings difficult circumstances that are simply impossible to prevent, predict or prepare for. But facing that crucial moment of life’s ultimate spiritual crisis isn’t one of them - providing 1 John 2:1-2 has become both our position and protection. “And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.”

Bill Breckenridge

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Fool’s Gold in California

California, which gave us the Gold Rush, has apparently discovered a modern fool’s gold. The State Supreme Court voted 4-3 to mandate same sex marriage. Unless there is a last-minute injunction, marriage licenses will be issued to same-sex couples beginning on June 14, 2008. The ruling has accelerate our nation’s skid down the slippery slope of moral collapse. California has become the second state (Massachusetts was the first) to grant homosexuals equal marital status with conventional heterosexual relationships. New Jersey will likely be not far behind.

This split decision effectively overturns every law against gay marriage. It is praised by the sodomite community but denounced by traditional moralists, who have to opt for long-range legal reversal through a legislative amendment to the state constitution. California governor Arnold Schwartzenegger, who had previously vetoed two bills legalizing same-sex marriage, has said he will respect the ruling and will not support such an amendment. Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said he will perform same-sex marriage unions even as numbers of homosexuals cued up for marriage licenses, among them actress Ellen DeGeneres and her female partner.

In 2000, 61% of California voters approved a ballot measure that stated "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid and recognized in California." The City and County of San Francisco and individuals sued the state of California, and the result was the recent state supreme court decision. Matt Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, called the decision "outrageous" and "nonsense," adding, "No matter how you stretch California’s Constitution, you cannot find anywhere in its text, its history or tradition that now, after so many years, it magically protects what most societies condemn."

We have another case of judicial activism where laws are not judged but made. The split court ruling overturns an existing state law against gay marriage. We also have a case of a one-vote margin, underscoring the importance of a single vote. The issue is obviously going to be a major campaign concern in the U.S. presidential election, and everyone’s vote will be significant.

The issue is, first, a Biblical one. Scripture is clear in Genesis that God’s precedent is one man and one woman in a legitimate marriage as in Adam and Eve (Gen. 2). However, with Biblical influence apparently now waning, any immoral preference stands equally valid. (Sadly, even some in the Emergent Church movement have called for a five-year moratorium on what they see as Christians’ judgmental attitudes toward homosexuality. They say they need time to determine what Scripture really says.)

Changes in language have encouraged the shift. What is now known as the "gay" lifestyle used to be called "sodomy," harking back to the dismal chapter of such behavior and violence of Sodom as found in Genesis 19. God had enough, and Sodom blew up in fire and brimstone. When traveling from Amman, Jordan down to Petra some 180 miles south, the road traverses an area where light colored rock abruptly turns to black stones spewed from a great distance. Archeologists believe it is the residue of the explosion of Sodom and Gomorrah. Our tour bus stopped at the site, and the guide invited us to walk through the debris. It was a warm day, but it gave me chills.

A fundamental abuse of God’s norm that is given the force of law will surely not escape God’s attention or His judgment.

Further, if two men or two women can form legitimate marriages, why not two men and one woman, or two women and one man, or a foursome, a quintet or any other numbers of multiple unions? And who is then to say that bestiality (sexual unions between humans and animals) is illegal? After all, we are told that we humans are just advanced animals and animal rights are ultra-important. Breaching God’s norm of heterosexual monogamy destroys any valid objection to other variant unions. This also brings up questions regarding the fuss against the polygamists in Texas. Are laws against polygamy next to be struck down?

Other issues will surely arise. What about "hate crime" charges if churches speak against this "legal" lifestyle? What about religious tax-exemption if churches speak against "accepted public policy"? That is what the courts decided in the Bob Jones University case where they lost tax-exemption over what the school held as a sincere Biblical belief.

These changes are already evident in Canada. A court there decided in January that a child could have two legal same sex parents in a three-way parent relationship (one father and two mothers, one of whom was the biological mother and the other her female partner). A Christian ministry in Canada was fined $23,000 for trying to fire an employee who entered a homosexual relationship. In Canada, a person can be arrested, convicted and jailed if he speaks out publicly against the homosexual lifestyle.

Where does this erosion end?

What has happened in America is that Biblical morality has been eroded by the "baloney method"—a slice at a time. First, divorce is legal, then fornication is legal, then same-sex marriages are legal. What is next? I hope it is revival arising out of a renewal of Biblical allegiance and a rebirth in the human heart through genuine repentance and regeneration accomplished only through cleansing by Christ’s precious blood and a reborn life through the Holy Spirit.
2 Corinthians 5:17 covers it: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new."

And there is the best of hope for the worst of us sinners. "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites,nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

I have written a more detailed commentary on the issues of gay marriage. Contact us for a copy of "Moral Madness: A Biblical Response to Gay Marriage," which outlines all of the Scripture references on homosexuality, its affect on our society and what Christians can do about it. A suggested donation of $2.50 helps to cover our costs for materials and postage.

Dave Virkler

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Happy 60th Birthday, Israel!

On May 14, 1948, one day after the British Mandate administrators left, an elated but worried Jewish leadership proclaimed the modern State of Israel. Eleven minutes later, at the urging of President Truman and after being certain of the name of the newborn country, the United States recognized the new nation of Israel.

The move was accelerated by the 1947 United Nations partition plan dividing a Palestine area the size of New Jersey into Arab and Jewish sectors. A two-nation settlement was at hand. The Jews accepted it, but the Arabs rejected it, certain that with the British gone, the Jewish state was vulnerable to defeat and demise. In a military wonder of the world, Israel prevailed. By the 1949 armistice, it had gained more land than the UN had prescribed.

The tenuous state of affairs remained static until 1967 when, in a preemptive strike forestalling another vicious attack by Arab League nations, Israel gained the Gaza Strip and Sinai from Egypt, the Golan Heights from Syria, and the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) from Jordan. The Old City of Jerusalem was under exclusive Israeli control for the first time since 587 BC, when the Babylonians leveled the Temple and deported the populace.

Israel has had to contest every minute of its existence. It beat back another incursion in 1973 and blew up nuclear threats in Iran in 1988 and in Syria in 2007. Egypt and Jordan have made modest peace with Israel, but, with endless international pressure, Gaza, Golan and the West Bank have been presumed negotiables in a clamor for a Palestinian State. Withstanding violent Hezbollah to the north in Lebanon and Hamas to the south, Israel walks a political and economic international tightrope after 60 years.

Sixty years ago, literalist Bible scholars could say, "We told you so, because the Bible tells us so." They can still say the same after six decades. God’s covenant with national Israel is as permanent as the sun, moon, stars and tides (Jeremiah 31:35-37).

That this enduring national entity would return to their homeland in the latter days is taught in Ezekiel 37 where the dead nation is forecast to live, coalesce and become a great army. In Ezekiel 38:8 and onward, a "latter day" Israel is seen returned and prosperous but sorely threatened by predatory northern nations.

Christ affirmed an eventual restoration in Luke 21:29-32 speaking about a fig tree and all the trees budding and saying that the generation seeing this would see the Kingdom restored. That the "fig tree" reference is to Israel is clear from Jeremiah 24, where all Israel is likened to two baskets of figs. And "all the trees" in the Middle East are recent buds with modern Egypt and Iraq birthed in 1922 and 1923 respectively, Lebanon in ’43 and Syria and Jordan in ’46. Currently, the nascent Palestinian State is a bud within the bud.

About 90% of modern Israel is religiously liberal. This means that the longed-for Kingdom promised numerous times by the prophets and tacitly affirmed by Christ (Acts 1:7) awaits the national repentance forecast by Zechariah (Zech. 12:10). It will be followed by national deliverance from international attack (Zech. 14:2) and, finally, the glorious Kingdom (Zech. 14:6).

Meanwhile, born-again believers fulfill the mandate of global evangelism as Acts 1:8 commands to build a church that Christ receives at the Rapture—a sudden, unannounced heavenly exodus described in I Thess. 4:16:17. "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."

Regarding Israel, Psalm 122:6 enjoins us, "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee."

Someday, as the old hymn says,
"Jesus shall reign where’re the sun
Does his successive journeys run,
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore
Till moons shall wax and wane no more;"
(Isaac Watts)

"This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we endure, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us. If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself" (2 Tim 2:11-13).

Dave Virkler

Monday, May 12, 2008

Health Care For Poor Children?

A new report by the U.S. Save the Children organization claims about 10 million children die every year from easily preventable and treatable diseases. It added that more than half of those could be saved with what they term “basic medical services”.

The report found that more than 200 million children under age five lack the basic healt hcare services which include immunizations, antibiotics, skilled care at childbirth and treatment for diarrhea and pneumonia. The 55 nations surveyed in the study account for nearly 60 percent of the world's population of children under five and 83 percent of all child deaths.

The research also revealed the worst countries as Laos, Yemen, Chad, Somalia and especially Ethiopia, where a horrendous 84% of children lack adequate medical attention. On the other end of the spectrum was the Philippines, which does the best job of providing basic care. But even in the Philippines, 31% of the young children are under-protected, and families there pay 44 percent of general health costs. This, of course, leaves the very poor most vulnerable. Dr. Stephanie Sison, of Save The Children in Manila, says that mobilizing effective community health workers is the key to the success in the Philippines because they live in the community and are able to educate mothers directly.

The above statistics are almost too hard to comprehend in the United States of America. The U.S. health care system is still the envy of most of the world and is always a prominent issue for many families and especially in the political realm.

Former Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee espouses that the nation does not have so much a health ‘care’ crisis as much as it has a literal ‘health’ crisis. The former Arkansas Governor feels that the 80% of money spent on dealing with chronic illness in older age could be dramatically reduced through better caring for the body long before most preventable troubles begin. He explains that, although the quantity of life for Americans is increasing, that the quality of their physical condition often leaves much to be desired. His views come from firsthand experience when he lost over 100 pounds after being told by physicians that he would die if serious evasive action was not taken – and quickly. His point is simply that healthy and moral lifestyles are key to both a better physical and better economic life.

Physical and spiritual health, and health care, issues have numerous similarities and contrasts. The most crucial contrast is that spiritual wellness is not the exclusive possession of those fortunate enough to afford to purchase it. John 3:16 declares it can be the property of any who come to Christ in faith. The apostle writes there, “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.” Acts 2 substantiates this great truth in verse 22. “That whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved." Salvation is clearly for ‘whoever’ and not only for whoever can pay.

Scripture also speaks to the preventive and healing power of God’s living word. The Psalmist knew this well from experience when he penned his thoughts in chapter 119. First, he answered his own profound question in verse 9. “How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word.” Then Scripture's ability to hinder sin while still in the temptation stage is revealed through verse 10. “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You.”

During His earthly ministry Jesus did heal some that were sick. He occasionally even raised the dead. But His primary reason for doing so was to substantiate His deity and role as the Messiah. It was not to just relieve physical suffering. That was simply a loving by-product for those He miraculously touched. But His main task was always to heal the damaged souls of sinful men and women. He identified those in need in Matthew 9 and His unique ability to meet that crisis in Luke 19. Through Matthew’s gospel we read in verse 12, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick." Then Luke 10:19 He spoke of the purpose of the incarnation. “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost." Christ knew, as only the Creator God could, that physical healing is desirable, but that spiritual health is essential! Only He could fully know the unimaginable horrors of hell and the unfathomable blessings heavenly.

The plan in the Philippines of mobilizing local health workers for increased medical success is a model for reaching the world with the soul-saving power of Jesus Christ. 1 Thessalonians 1:6-9 provides perhaps the Bible’s most effective and complimented pattern for successful evangelistic outreach and widespread spiritual health. “And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.”

In a fallen world the existence physical agony will never be preventable. But in Christ, the universal plague and penalty of human sin is fully curable!

Bill Breckenridge

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Global Troubles, Biblical Peace

The tragedy in Myanmar defies imagination. The cyclone’s wind and water have killed 22,000 by rough current estimates, and countless more are missing. Compounding the disaster was the leftist government’s inaction to alert citizens of the impending catastrophe and refusing merciful aid in post-storm days because of political paranoia. Starvation and ravaging disease wait closely in the wings to potentially decimate thousands of survivors.

There is always a tendency to over react prophetically and assign some natural disaster to a particular end-time fulfillment, but several recent developments make the serious Bible student wonder whether the weather is an ally of the onset of predicted global disorders.

Both the Lord Jesus and the apostles forecast tortured times for planet earth in the end times. End times began from the coming of Christ according to Hebrews 1:2, but the end of the end times must be now with global indicators apparent.

There is a modern restored Israel (Ezekiel 38), now celebrating it’s 60th anniversary, Europe is conjoined by currency, passports and manufacturing standards (Revelation 13 & 17) and the kings of the east are troubling the world (Rev. 16:12), to name a few.

Natural phenomena focus additional attention on prophecy. Christ spoke of ethnic strife, earthquakes, famines and disease in Matthew 24:7. Revelation predicts the greatest earthquake ever (Rev. 16:18). Evidently tsunamis and howling winds will impact coastal areas as Luke 21:25 says and Rev. 7:1 implies. Peter predicts earth’s end will be with a torrid heat and huge explosion (II Peter 3:10-12).

Presently, there are clusters of earthquakes in America’s midsection and off the coast of Oregon. A terrible cyclone has ravaged Myanmar. Southern Chile has suffered a violent volcanic eruption. Starvation and disease are constant collateral threats. AIDS ravages Africa, and a recent epidemic of foot-and-mouth disease has sickened 2,000 children in China and killed 28. Health officials warn we are running out of antibiotics to control news viruses. Global economies face wrenching fuel and food prices.

As their character of concern and compassion should always dictate, Christians will pray and seek effective solutions. Should things spin beyond human control through natural or manmade disasters, spiritual safe harbor presently and eternal deliverance eventually is always available in Christ who said, "In the world you will have tribulation (meaning pressure); but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).

In a world of often-failed peace plans, I resort to a verse I discovered early in my Christian life. "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:27).

To a world grown weary with tension and pressure, Christ still calls, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matt 11:28-30).

Dave Virkler

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

More Superhero Films?

They are known as ‘Super Heroes'. They received life through the Marvel comic books, some of which can be quite valuable today depending on the issue. But in the last few years some of these fictional characters, once confined to the printed page or in cartoon form, have made their way to theatres and have enjoyed great success.

But Marvel Comics has now announced plans for even more of the highly successful films, plus an 'Iron Man' sequel to follow the current box office hit that grossed 100 million dollars in its first weekend. The future films will feature the Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Thor, and eventually Ant Man.

The idea of a good and powerful being who protects the innocent and triumphs over evil began long before the first Marvel version hit the news stands. The Scriptures clearly describe one who alone possessed the motive and ability to fully defeat evil in the real world. This stunning feat was made possible through his perfect life and sacrificial death rather than the raw force often portrayed by Marvel Comic’s super characters.

John 3 reveals the primary role of Jesus Christ. It was to expose, confront and destroy evil. Verse 8 reads, “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.”

Then Colossians 1 describes why Jesus Christ is the ultimate ‘Super man’. Verse 15-17 says, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.”

In other words, God’s Son was ‘the’ super man’ because He was, at the same time, a perfect man and the supreme God of creation!

The Apostle Paul offers his insight in Philippians 2 about how Christ would achieve such an astonishing feat. Verse 8 reads, “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” This mysterious concept is not easily understood but clearly taught in Scripture. In theological terms it is known as the ‘Hypostatic Union’ and it forms one of the great foundations of the Christian faith.

Christ’s voluntary sacrifice broke the bonds of evil while addressing the penalty for humanity’s sins. Beyond that, His loving redemptive actions also allowed those who trust Him to themselves become heroes of the faith. This is something graphically portrayed in Hebrews 11. After referring to some of the better known saints of the faith, the author widens the field starting in the 36th verse. “Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented - of whom the world was not worthy.”

Any who seek out a real life hero and flawless role model today need not spend their hard earned cash at the theatre in order to bond for a few hours with some fictional heroic character. Instead, they need look no further than to God’s Son.

Jesus Christ is the only perfect and complete role model. His love for a spiritually damaged race of men led to His incomprehensible heroics upon a cruel Roman cross. But His great work of redemption also includes constructing those who know Him and faithfully follow Him into real-life heroes of the faith.

Bill Breckenridge

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Finish and Finished

She had just won $400,000 in a second-place finish in the world’s greatest horse race. But galloping off the stress in the run down of that tortured Kentucky Derby oval, Eight Belles, the only filly in the race, snapped both front ankles and was euthanized within minutes. It is a stunning win tempered by a tragic loss. Even first-place horse Big Brown threw his rider on looking at the stricken Eight Belles.

The "post mortems" range from discussions on horse breeding practices to the quality of the running track and even to suspending jockey Gabriel Sanchez if it is determined he had any knowledge that his horse was in trouble during the actual race. If the latter proves true, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) wants the $400,000 second place prize money returned. Other discussions address the imbalance of upper body weight against spindly equine leg bones.

Eight Belles enters the record books at the apex of victory and the depths of loss. Sports writer Jerry Izenberg of The Star Ledger ended his sober column, "She was born to run, and she was determined to catch Big Brown. She died trying."

Races of any kind, especially this one, somehow focus biblical truths of the Christian’s competition on the track of life. The twin notations of victory and death at least faintly reflect the Apostle Paul’s last words in 2 Timothy 4:6-8. "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing." He declares that as he finishes the race, he’s going to die.

Other race course passages stress the supreme finish line focus despite any cost. Hebrews 12:1-2 says, "Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."

For some believers across the centuries, the race guaranteed death, but the Heavenly prize was worth it as Revelation 12:11 says of their victory over the Evil One. "And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death."

In Christian competition, the highest prize awaits those who persevere first in the Lord’s commendation as Matthew 25:23 promises: "Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord."

A life well-lived also guarantees permanent rewards. "Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, ‘Write: "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on." "Yes," says the Spirit," that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them"’" (Rev. 14:13).

This Derby tragedy is a painful sports footnote, but the passing of the Christian victor eternally crystallize life’s victories. As the old hymn says, "This robe of flesh I’ll drop and rise, To seize the everlasting prize, And shout while passing through the air, Farewell, farewell, sweet hour of prayer."

At the close of a thrilling evangelistic service I held years ago, the pastor exclaimed, "All this and Heaven too!" When a great believer was breathing his last, a close friend said, "He’s dying full of life." The epitaph of a notable mountain climber who perished in a try for the summit, read, "He died climbing."

Our Christian prayer and passion hopefully matches Paul’s. "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."

Shortly before he died and went to Heaven, I leaned in close to my father’s face (another Paul) and asked him if he had a final word. He feebly and quietly said, "Fought … a good … fight …" He had run out of mortal breath, so I finished it for him. "… finished the course … kept the faith … a crown of righteous is laid up for you…"

David Virkler

Thursday, May 1, 2008

A Proclamation

In searching for President Bush’s National Day of Prayer proclamation, I looked at several other recent presidential proclamations. As of April 29, there have been about 30 in 2008. Many presidential proclamations are issued each year, sometimes as many as 100 annually, and some are understandably obscure or even somewhat trite and probably the result of some political pressure to gain legitimacy by presidential attention.

On April 15, President Bush signed an Education and Sharing Day, USA, 2008 proclamation. The high-sounding notation is particularly interesting because the day it honors, according to the proclamation, "pays tribute to the unique efforts of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Rebbe helped create numerous education and outreach centers, which continue to provide social service programs and humanitarian aid at home and around the globe."

After his death, the United States Congress awarded the Rebbe the Congressional Gold Medal. His global efforts at education in things Jewish to prepare for the coming of Messiah is known as Chabad. Around the date of the his birthday, Congress and the President issue annual proclamations honoring him. President Bush was convinced of Schneerson’s significant international educational impact to issue another complimentary proclamation on April 15 to honor his accomplishments.

What most will never know is that Schneerson was proclaimed by many Jews as the Messiah. Researchers claimed he could trace his lineage on both sides of the family all the way back to King David. He was the seventh and last (because he had no male heirs) in the Hasidic Lubavitcher spiritual dynasty reaching back into Russia.

When I was in Israel some years ago, huge banners at the Western Wall proclaimed Schneerson as Israel’s redeemer. Trim cards were available at Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion Airport also welcoming him as the Jewish Messiah. During his lifetime, some Israeli lawmakers were snookered into routinely signing a birthday card for him that basically announced him as the Jewish Messiah.
Although Schneerson never traveled to Israel, his adherents built him a house on the outskirts of Tel Aviv patterned after his residence in Brooklyn, NY in expectation of his messianic appearance in Israel. I saw highway billboards in New York State that portrayed him as the likely Jewish Messiah. Followers around the world had their beepers activated awaiting his announcement as Messiah.

Schneerson suffered a serious stroke in 1977, and he died of a heart attack in 1994 at age 92. He was buried in Brooklyn, and some followers expected him to rise from the dead. Some believe he can send special messages from beyond the grave. Full-page ads in major publications still imply that his coming was the onset of the Messianic age.

Jewish mysticism, especially regarding messiahs, has historically far outstripped any Christian expectation of Messiah’s return. Large numbers of people are deeply involved with the Kabballa, an occultic search for the meaning of creation and life.

How can so many Jews really believe Schneerson was or still is the Messiah? First, general belief is that Messiah need not be divine but a specially endowed human being.
Second, Jesus Christ, the real Messiah, forecast such deception in John 5:34. "I have come in My Father's name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive."

The Bible predicts that Antichrist will one day come. Anti is really "ante" meaning a perfect fraud or stand-in. If modern Jews can be so deceived into accepting a stroke-ridden, heart-attack stricken human, think what a real Antichrist will do in working astounding miracles. "The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12).

Consider Revelation 13:13-14. "He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived."

The April 15 proclamation has a happy ending, as do all presidential proclamations. It ends, "In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this fifteenth day of April, in the year of our Lord two thousand eight, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-second" (emphasis mine). Every proclamation is issued "in the year of our Lord" meaning from the birth of Christ. According to the last book of the Bible, our Lord is Jesus Christ who is exalted as King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16).

Dave Virkler