Monday, June 30, 2008

One Billion Computers and Counting?

According to Gartner Research, the number of personal computers worldwide has exceeded one billion. The study also predicts the number to double in only about 6 years - a staggering rate of growth, to say the least. And this is not including laptop models! Gartner also claims that emerging markets will account for 70 percent of the next billion PCs to come online.

Other data reveals that fifty-eight percent of today's PCs are owned by U.S., European, and Japanese users and that his year, some 180 million computers currently in use globally will be retired. This means that approximately 35 million of these will be dumped into landfills but with little apparent concern for their potentially hazardous content.

Amazingly, a day is coming soon when there will be a PC for every 3 or so people on the planet. If laptops are included, the numbers would soon approach 1 of every 2. But as incredible as this all is, there is something more amazing and far more important than even the stunning proliferation of modern computing technology.

Wikipedia, the massive online encyclopedia, records the following figures. “The Bible Society of the United Kingdom calculates that the number of Bibles printed between 1816 and 1975 was 2,458,000,000. Furthermore, worldwide sales of the Bible number more than a staggering 100 million each year. This means that as of the year 2007, approximately 7.5 billion Bibles have been distributed throughout world—with the vast majority still available for use. And these figures do not include the various digital versions of the Bible being used today by millions on computers, Blackberries—and now iPhones. Currently, the complete Bible has been published in over 450 languages with the New Testament alone being published in nearly 1,400 languages."

Without a doubt, the Bible remains the best selling book of all time and statistically there is now at least one Bible, in some format, to represent every human life on earth!

But despite the vast numbers of computers littering the globe, there are some who will never own or even see one due to a host of reasons. However, the God of the Bible has provided a comprehensive plan of salvation which is meant to be the private possession of every living being. (1 John 2:2, 1 Timothy 4:10) The gospel writer made abundantly clear the scope of God’s redemptive plan in Mark 13:10. “And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations.” The method of distribution was made equally clear and was related later in Mark 16:15. "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”

The saturation of God’s Word is no accident. Within its own prophetic pages is forecast its own indestructibility and global impact. (Mark 13:31, Matthew 24:14) But the most effective evangelistic tool, even today, is still the simple word of mouth communication of salvation in Jesus Christ. The price has been paid. (1 Corinthians 6:20) The plan is in place (John 3:16) And now only the proclamation process remains with the very best example of effective outreach seen in the early ‘computer-free’ church.“

"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.” (1 Thessalonians 1:8)

That is always the very best use of the PC - namely, the
Personal Communication of the Person of Christ!

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Which Stairway To Heaven?

It was considered a rock masterpiece. And its durability certainly bears that out. The eight-minute long piece was written and performed by what many feel to be the best ever in their genre of music.

They are Led Zeppelin – the British heavy metal rockers known for their powerful vocals and unmatched instrumental prowess. The band formed in 1968 and has sold over 300 million albums worldwide. Obviously the group has enjoyed staggering success but the song that is most associated with them is “Stairway To Heaven”. The first stanza of the rather lengthy tune reads:

There's a lady who's sure
All that glitters is gold
And she's buying a stairway to heaven
When she gets there she knows
If the stores are all closed
With a word she can get what she came for
And she's buying a stairway to heaven

As far as the song’s meaning, its writer and band lead singer Robert Plant said, "It was some cynical aside about a woman getting everything she wanted all the time without giving back any thought or consideration.”

The super song was released back in 1971 through Atlantic records and is arguably the single most famous rock tune of all time. It has been played on the radio nearly 3 million times - equal to more than 45 years of uninterrupted airtime! But even today“Stairway” has not yet achieved its full money making potential, since Zeppelin has typically shunned many of the usual financial opportunities. Recently, executives in the music advertising and entertainment industries came up with some numbers of the real and potential value of “Stairway." Should the group decide to go totally commercial, the total estimated value of the 37-year old legendary hit, in all of its various forms, could exceed a staggering $572 million dollars.

Meanwhile, a new study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has revealed some interesting, if not very disturbing, beliefs about Americans’ views about the other road to heaven. The survey of 35,000 adults found that a shocking 57%, who attend ‘evangelical’ churches feel that their religion is not the only stairway to a heavenly home – despite what their own church may teach. The report also sites that only 14 percent see their religious beliefs as the main influence on their political thinking. This led D. Michael Lindsay, a Rice University sociologist of religion to state, "The survey shows religion in America is, indeed, 3,000 miles wide and only three inches deep."

It is fully understandable why those of other faiths would feel heaven is attainable apart from what the Bible teaches. The reason is simple. They do not believe in what the Scriptures teach despite the overwhelming evidence of its divine authorship. But any who do claim to be evangelical Christians would be well advised to rethink their alignment with those who reject an exclusive nature of a Bible-based salvation. To not do so is to absolutely reject and willingly ignore the many clear and powerful passages that speak directly to the issue.

There are others, but the following three passages are classic examples of what God has revealed concerning His exclusive redemptive plan and the forgiveness of human sin.

First, the Apostle John writes, “Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) Later in 1 John he relates, “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.” (1 John 5: 11-13)

Then Peter makes the same distinction abundantly clear stating, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12) The one and only “Stairway To Heaven” must be climbed exclusively and literally on the back of Jesus Christ. Few things are made any clearer in God’s Word because few things even approach its importance. But unlike the misguided woman in Zeppelin’s song, a happy earthly life and a future heavenly home can never be bought through material means. (Isaiah 55:1-3)

Along with Christ being the one way to heaven, His path is also the free way there. In his greatest doctrinal thesis, the Apostle Paul spoke about the price of salvation in Romans 5:8. “Therefore, as through one man's offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man's righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.”

God’s only ‘Stairway To Heaven’ is a pathway free from any human efforts or moral requirements. Its steps are accessible to all willing to climb it God’s way and who agree to hold fast to the railing of the faith as designed and required by its Savior.

But the forgiveness of sin should always be accompanied by a deep awareness that salvation was anything but free. It was infinitely costly to the One whose mighty sacrifice made the priceless gift of redemption and heaven a glorious reality!

Bill Breckenridge

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Infamous Comedian Dies

He outlived his infamous prediction – at least partly so. He was radical comedian George Carlin, who has died of heart failure at age 71.

He was a star of the counterculture, having begun his career in the 60’s. His humor was often blasphemous and off-color. But Carlin will best be remembered for his act, “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television”. No explanation is necessary. Although network TV has keep most of these vile expressions at bay, the advent of cable has meant that Carlin’s prophecy did not exactly pan out – unfortunately.

Actor Ben Stiller called Carlin "a hugely influential force in stand-up comedy. He had an amazing mind, and his humor was brave, and always challenging us to look at ourselves and question our belief systems, while being incredibly entertaining. He was one of the greats."

It is not uncommon around the Easter season for churches to speak what is known as “The Seven Last Words From The Cross”. In reality, they are 7 short phrases uttered by Jesus Christ as He suffered on the cross and died there for the redemption of the world. The sayings were originally uttered in Aramaic, although just one is preserved in the original language in most modern English translations. The expressions have been used also in sacred music by notable composers like Joseph Hayden.

These few, but significantly profound theological words, are recorded in Scripture as follows:

1. "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." Luke 23:34
2. "This day thou shalt be with me in Paradise." Luke 23:433.
3. "Woman, behold thy son." John 19:26-74.
4. "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" Mark 15:34 5.
5. "I thirst." John 19:286.
6. "It is finished." John 19:307.
7. "Into thine hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit." Luke 23:46

While some may feel that George Carlin offered humorous challenges to look within and question one’s beliefs, his words are not even worthy to be mentioned along side of what Jesus Christ did and said during His last hours on the cross.

The Savior’s agonizing cry to the Father of ‘forsaking Him’ was both crucial and biblically significant. It was the Son's reaction over the heavenly Father’s reaction to Jesus literally becoming sin for us. (2 Corinthians 5:21) This, in turn, caused a holy God to have to look away from His beloved Son. None will ever know the depths of the emptiness and despair Christ suffered in those horrendous hours. His pain infinitely exceeded even the excruciating physical effects associated with crucifixion.

But Christ’s stunning loneliness and unimaginable suffering ultimately led to the most significant words ever spoken – even among the 7 amazing phrases considered here. Just before breathing His last, He cried out, “It is finished.” Simply stated, His task was complete. He had fully paid the eternal fine for sin – at the terrible price demanded by God. Nothing more needed to be done to fulfill the plan of salvation designed in eternity past! All that remained was His glorious resurrection - the most stunning proof that He was exactly who He claimed to be - the eternal God wrapped in human flesh. (John 1:14)

George Carlin died from a heart condition. And his infamous ‘seven words’, or the fame and fortune they brought, were of no value when he stepped into the presence of His Creator. But those who understand the words of Christ from the cross, and act upon them in faith, have their spiritual hearts repaired and renewed as Romans 10:8-10 records. “That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”

Only 7 simple words directed at Christ, but offered in sincere and trusting faith, will suffice for salvation. ‘Lord, I’m a sinner. Please save me’.

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Oldest Church Found?

Archaeologists in Jordan have discovered what they think may be the world’s oldest Christian Church. The spot is actually a cave. It is found beneath a church building which is already thought to be one of the oldest on record. It is estimated that St. George’s Church, located in the Jordanian city of Rihab, was built around the year 230 AD.

Archaeologist Abdel-Qader al-Housan, head of the Rihab Center for Archaeological Studies, said that excavation has shown evidence of early Christian rituals. He described a circular worship area with stone seats separated from a living area that had a long tunnel leading to a source of water. He said the early Christians likely hid there from persecution.

The bishop deputy of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in Amman called the finding an important milestone. He commented concerning early believers, “Christians in this region are not strangers. They are real citizens who have always had roots in this region from those days until the present." Other experts are not so sure and feel that additional proof is needed before accepting the ‘oldest Christian church ever’ claim.

While religious archaeological discoveries are fascinating and often important, the real question concerning the age of the church has to do with actual definition of the church.The New Testament makes general reference to a few specific churches in specified locations. But generally speaking, the writer was always addressing the people there. There was seldom, if ever, some physical structure in mind. (1 Corinthians 1:2)

The term ‘church’ is from the Greek word ‘ekklesia’. It basically means ‘that which is called out.’ Biblically it refers to those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ and thereby been called out of the world to form a new and living spiritual organism. In this sense, the ‘church’ is the universal body of Christ. It includes every one who has been redeemed and have entered God’s family through faith alone.

While archaeologists continue to search and research religious artifacts, including the oldest church dwelling, the book of Acts relates the specifics about the official start of the living church on earth. Not long after the ascension of Jesus into Heaven, we are told in Acts 2:1-4, “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

The true church was born at the arrival of the Holy Spirit after the departure of Christ to His Father. (John 16:7-8) It was at that exact time that God began building this new supernatural and spiritual entity. A great example of the dramatic expansion of the early church is found in Peter’s forceful message in Acts 2. After a brutally honesty and fiery gospel proclamation, his efforts brought astonishing results as referenced in verses 40-42. “And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation. Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them." Verse 47 then adds, “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”

The church is all about Jesus Christ. He gave himself for His church. (Ephesians 5:25) He is the head of His church. (Ephesians 1:22) He nourishes and cherishes His church. (Ephesians 5:29) He sanctifies His church. (Ephesians 5:26) And He will someday present His church as holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:27) But the Lord also uses His church for His eternal purposes and will protect it until His mighty redemptive plans are achieved.

This final aspect was revealed in a telling moment when Peter proved that he finally got it! When the Apostle was questioned by Jesus concerning the Lord’s identity and position he answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:16-18)

“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Bill Breckenridge

“The Great American Think-Off”

“The Great American Think-Off” It is called “The Great American Think-Off". And as the title suggests, the competition is not a physical one but rather a contest involving just the intellect. The idea behind the event is to give everyday ordinary people the opportunity to debate some of the extraordinary issues of the day.

This year’s gold medal winner was Craig Allen of West Lynn, Oregon. Allen won by most effectively answering the question, “Dies immigration strengthen or threaten the United States?" Three of the four finalists concluded that the current immigration policy is potentially harmful to the nation. They also addressed what it means to be an American and stressed that American identity is evolving.

The effects of immigration and citizenship will continue as a source of debate and will likely be a key issue in the upcoming election. The vast difference in opinions is because both sides have valid points. There are those who would come to America with wrong motives and/or destructive plans. But there are presumably many more who dream of a new life and are willing to work hard, obey the rules, and contribute to society.

There is something related on this subject, but on spiritual plane. It supercedes all physical questions, concerns, and fears. Those who have trusted Christ as their personal Savior have become foreigners, in a way, even in the country where they legally reside. In reality, they have a dual citizenship. Paul speaks to this in Philippians 3:20 when he writes to, and about, all true Christian believers. “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” In addition, he reveals these words to the equation. “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.” (Ephesians 2:19-20).

But even the great significance of belonging to God’s kingdom extends beyond the immeasurable blessings and benefits of a heavenly home and future. The earthly residence of these same heavenly citizens is also is a distinct advantage to the nation in which they reside. The reason? Their godly lifestyles.

First, God’s people are admonished in Romans 13 to be ‘model citizens’. Verse one begins by revealing, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” Then a few specifics, Paul again emphasizes God’s will in verse 5. “Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake.”

Then in addition to becoming ‘model citizens', God expects His people to be ‘moral citizens’. They are commanded to cling to a far higher standard than is the human norm. Peter sheds supernatural light on this in his first letter stating, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” (1 Peter 3:15-17) And back in chapter one he relates the staggering degree of behavioral excellence that is to be outwardly evidenced by anyone who names the name of Jesus Christ. “But as He who called you is holy , you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, "Be holy , for I am holy ." (1 Peter 1:15-16)

It is unfortunate that many of America’s current citizens, and those desiring to join them, are not also citizens of heaven. The logic is simple, but the results undeniable. When Christians pattern themselves after their Lord, their lifestyles will be a great advantage to nation where they live and a credit to the God in whom they serve.

Bill Breckenridge

Monday, June 16, 2008

Tim Russert’s Death – and Ours

Tim Russert, veteran newsman and anchor, died suddenly of a heart attack on June 13 while recording a voiceover for "Meet the Press." Throughout the weekend, a stream of eulogies poured forth from the media, and many programs were devoted entirely to his incredible but shortened life. Only 58, Russert had reached his professional pinnacle of focused but respected interviewer and newscaster. It was achieved, he said, through the strength of hard work arising from family example and encouragement. The impact of Russert’s home life was tenderly chronicled in his famous books honoring his father, "Big Russ and Me" and "Wisdom of Our Fathers." His recurring recollection of his character-molding dad’s stock sentence "What a great country!" is a patriotic milestone.

Russert’s wrenching departure is all the more painful considering he had just returned with his wife and son from a trip abroad, he had recently seen his son graduate from college, and he had placed his aging father in an assisted living facility.

While Tim Russert’s positive public persona and achievements justify the effusive and lingering memorials, let us not forget that on any given day scores of obituaries are found in countless newspapers across the country. It seems that we really stare death in the face only when a prominent person passes away. According to God’s Word, death is inevitable for all of us (unless we are born-again believers who will be caught up in Christ’s coming for His church as I Thessalonians 4:16 & 17 says). A hymn writer once penned, "Each one thinks he’ll be enduring, and then that one becomes the missing face."

The Bible is right, "In Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (I Corinthians 15:22). Romans 5:12 says, "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned." In the Garden of Eden, Adam was told, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die" (Genesis 2:16-17).

Ecclesiastes 8:8, describing life on earth, says, "No one has power over the spirit to retain the spirit, and no one has power in the day of death. There is no release from that war, And wickedness will not deliver those who are given to it." The imagery is of soldiers marching in formation in war without discharge, and when God commands, "Halt, one, two!" it’s over.

Proverbs 27:1 warns, "Do not boast about tomorrow, For you do not know what a day may bring forth." James 4:13-16 continues the caution, "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.’"

Earlier in his epistle, James spoke of the focused wealthy man who loses it all instantly. "For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits" (James 1:11).

Consummate folly was assigned by Christ to a spiritually indifferent farmer. "The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry."’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:16-21).

An old poem says it well:

The clock of life is wound but once,
And no man has the power
To tell just when the hands will stop
At late or early hour.

To lose one’s wealth is sad indeed,
To lose one’s health is more,
To lose one’s soul is such a loss
That no man can restore.

The present only is our own,
So Live, Love, toil with a will –
Place no faith in "Tomorrow" –
For the clock may then be still.

The believer’s precious comfort is to know that in Christ, "We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord" (II Cor. 5:8). The old Gospel song put it, "When He calls me, I will answer. I’ll be somewhere listening for my name."

Dave Virkler

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Jehovah's Witness Refuses Transfusion

58-year old John Edwards is still hospitalized and in critical condition. His serious injuries stemmed from being struck by a silver Mercedes in an early morning accident. The operator of the car was a 23-year old, suspected to have been a drunken driver. Although Edwards survived the crash and his trip to the hospital, his recovery is still in question – but not for the typical reasons.

The victim’s wife, Sheila, is a devout Jehovah’s Witness and, because of her religious convictions, has refused to allow her husband to receive badly needed blood transfusions. The husband has supposedly signed forms previously stating his agreement with his wife and requesting alternative treatments. Mrs. Edwards said on behalf of her husband, “Giving him a transfusion would be like assaulting him — and he wouldn’t want to live knowing he’d disobeyed his God.” The couple’s sons are in total disagreement with their parent’s decision to bypass the blood.

Blood is likely the key element pertaining to the physical life. The God of Israel, while warning His people against certain vile practices, stated in Leviticus 17:11, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood.” But the Israelites also were made well aware of the sacrificial value of blood as it related to their redemption and deliverance.

In Exodus 12 God made a promise to His special people and it directly involved blood.The use of blood, or lack thereof, would be the literal difference between life and death.Verse13 records God’s sobering warning. “Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.” The blood coursing through their own veins sustained their own vital signs, but the literal blood applied to the door would protect them from God’s fast approaching judgment.

In the New Testament the emphasis on blood remains but is even more intensified. However, the source of life-saving blood shifted drastically! It was refocused from the prior sacrificial slaying of a literal lamb to the ‘Lamb of God’ who was Himself the ultimate sacrifice and replacement for the old system.

This great truth is clearly spoke of by the writer of Hebrews. “For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:13-14) The reason for his words is then referred to later in verse 22. “And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission.”

Blood is arguably the single most important ingredient in God’s economy where salvation is concerned. After relating in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned”, the Apostle Paul continues on and records the significance of Christ’s shed blood in the matter.

In verse 25 he penned, “being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed".

A careful study of the Scriptures reveals precisely why man is in desperate need of spiritual rescue and what God has used in His ingenious redemptive process. But in order to understand why the Savior would submit Himself to a process of unthinkable humiliation and brutality requires only the consideration and comprehension of just one New Testament passage. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.” (Romans 5:8-9)

The disaster of human sin and the accompanying design of God to cure it can be boiled down to a few simple and profound phrases from the above verses:

The malady:
“For all have sinned.”
The mystery:
“While we were stil lsinners, Christ died for us.”
The motive:
“His own love toward us”
The means:
Without shedding of blood there is no remission.”
The method:
“Through faith”
The miracle:
“Having now been justifiedby His blood.”
The mission:
“To serve the living God
Those who are truly concerned about their spiritual condition and eternal directionsimply mustnot ‘bypass the blood’. They must, instead, be willing to open the arteries of their heart to the spiritual transfusion as offered by the Savior who willingly shed His sinless blood just for them. (1 Peter 1:18)

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Born-again Again?

It seemed like a sincere and reasonable question from a somewhat puzzled man. He was toldby Jesus that he must be ‘born-again’. His immediate reply seen in John 3:4 was understandable when considering that his spiritual eyes had not yet been opened. “Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?"

The surface answer was obviously known, both to himself, and by anyone else of that day. But this same question, if uttered some 2,000 years later in an hour of medical marvels, might bring a different response.

In a modern medical miracle, Macie Hope McCartney was born twice – but not in the typical way associated with the familiar biblical conversion. In this case, approximately 80% of the child’s body was literally removed from her mother’s womb so that surgeons could perform an emergency operation. A grapefruit-sized tumor was slowly taking up vital nutrients and squeezing life from the child. When the very delicate surgery was done, Macie was carefully placed back into the mother’s womb for 10 more weeks of the fragile pregnancy.

Doctors at the Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston revealed that only about 1 in 40,000 babies have Macie’s problem. The parents were told there would be a 10% chance of survival with the surgery but, without it, their child would certainly and literally starve to death in the womb. To them, even slim odds were better than no odds at all.

When Jesus spoke to Nicodemus, His reference to being born-again was obviously a spiritual one. The Savior also fully addressed the odds of gaining heaven without this transformation of the heart. The odds were zero. There was no other option or method in the mix. In verse 5 He declared that, without a spiritual rebirth, one “cannot see the kingdom of God”. Then later in verse 7, He reemphasized His view on the issue and in no uncertain terms. His words were concise but firm, “You must be born-again” – ‘must’ meaning there are no favorable odds or options for success otherwise!

Little Macie Hope was given a second chance at life. She was physically born twice. But for her, there still needs to be a third birth – the spiritual delivery shared byJesus in John 3 and further defined by Paul in Colossians 1:13-14. “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.”

Jesus made it clear that a glorious eternity in heaven requires multiple births. For Macie, that will mean three. But for most of us, the winning number is just two as the apostle Peter refers to in his first epistle, chapter 1, and verses 22-24. “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever,”

The conception and succeeding physical birth of a human being is a stunning and God-ordained event. The Psalmist credited God and described the majesty of it all by writing, “For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother's womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:13-14)

But there is something more here, something of utmost importance. The beginning of every human life brings with it the actual creation of a living soul - something destined to live as long as does its Creator! But even the miraculous fashioning of the human body remains incomplete, spiritually malformed, and destined for judgement unless it is united by the rebirth of that eternal entity within it through faith in Christ.

It may be unpopular. But it is unalterable. And it is unavoidable!
“You must be born-again”.

Bill Breckenridge

Youngest Medal of Honor Marine Dies

A great American’s story has come to an end – a story that stretches back to World War 2 and the battle in the Pacific. Jack Lucas was just 14 when he forged his mother’s signature allowing him to join the Marines in hopes of fighting the Japanese. He even stowed away on a Navy ship heading into combat to try and fulfill his mission – and fulfill it he did!

Not long after entering the fray, the youngster, still barely able to shave, threw himself on two live grenades to protect his squad. Miraculously his shrapnel-infested body would survive and be subjected to over 2 dozen grueling surgeries.

His inspirational actions saved his comrades from serious injury or death and earned him the Medal of Honor - the youngest Marine ever to receive the award. But just days ago this American hero finally succumbed to another battle – this time with a silent, but lethal, enemy called cancer.

Twenty-four years ago President Ronald Reagan spoke as he stood upon the infamous cliffs of Normandy, France, the former site of the greatest military operation of the 20th Century. His moving words that day included these. "You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet, you risked everything here. Why? ...What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self- preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith and belief; it was loyalty and love... You all knew that some things are worth dying for.”

Marine Jack Lucasdi did not die when it seemed most likely he should. But his recent death reminds those who know the Scriptures of two sobering truths. First, Hebrews 9:27 contends, “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” Then just one chapter later the same writer warns in verse 3, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

Facing God is, and for good reason, a frightening thought unless one is accurately armed to do so. But this can be done with full confidence since the battle of all battles was previously fought, and convincingly won, by God’s Son. He knew more than others ever could that some things are worth dying for. In Christ’s case, those things boiled down to just one main thing – the rescue of spiritually oppressed and lost souls. Like Private Jack, but on a far grander scale, Jesus willingly threw Himself over the destructive blight of human sin by giving His body over to a cruel Roman cross. But His actions were not simply inspirational or even heroic. They infinitely exceeded the physical realm and extended to the eternal redemption of humanity itself.

Heroic stories involving unusual human sacrifice can outwardly challenge and inspire the heart. But to have man’s heart and soul changed on the inside requires something more. Receiving an all-new heart demands a firm belief that Jesus took the blows that were meant for us by placing Himself in the path between sinful man and a holy God. His sacrifice ensured believers that the escape from the explosive effects of divine judgement was not just some vague possibility, but could be a guaranteed reality!

Marine Jack Lucasdi may have temporarily cheated death when the timing had seemed so right. But the perfect life, substitutionary death, and miraculous resurrection of God’s Son all occurred the precise and predicted time and place. It was carefully planned out by a loving Creator in eternity past as outlined in His word in Galatians 4:4 and Romans 5:6.

Bill Breckenridge

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Lessons From a Triple Crown Loss

Seldom have so many fortunes crumbled in a mile and a half. It happened at the Belmont Stakes on June 7 in the last challenge of the coveted Triple Crown—the Holy Grail of horse racing. Big Brown was almost unanimously favored to win after dramatic run-away wins in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. Against all odds, he finished a dismal ninth in last place, drawn up by his wise jockey who sadly said, "I had no horse today." When the stunned media asked, "What happened?" jockey Kent Desormeaux curtly answered, "I have no idea." Da’Tara, a comparatively obscure steed that was a 38-1 shot, galloped into the lead early and stayed out front to win.

A post-race examination has so far revealed no physical problem with Big Brown, but critics were quick to say his regimen of steroids had been unwisely discontinued. Watching the horse cool down, trainer Richard Dutrow hung out in speechless solitude—a stark contrast to his endless blustery boasts prior to the race. Big Brown, named for UPS, simply couldn’t deliver the goods.

What might an upside down horse race have to do with anything biblical? The Belmont set a perverse record. Never before had a first place favored horse finished dead last. Far more wrenching than a mere blown horse race, Jesus had a profound insight into human reversals of inverted spirituality as recorded in three Gospels. Matthew 19:30 simply puts it, "But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first." Proverbs 16:18 warns, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." A bit of pre-race humility shown by the devastated trainer could have blunted the loss.

No one knows the future except God, but He does predict a normalized value system in the light of eternity. The "first and last" text corrects flawed thinking regarding Christian service. When Christ’s disciples wavered in their spiritual commitment in view of what they had sacrificed to follow Him, He urged spiritual perception in contrast with mercenary gain. "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first"( Matt 19:29-30). "Hundredfold" is really 10,000% return on a servant’s life investment.

Some will find their temporal treasures a total loss and themselves in last place when life’s finish line is crossed, while others will enjoy eternity with enormous interest. Hebrews 12:1-2 outlines those in the stands and others on the track: "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."

When I was a kid at camp, we sang a fitting verse to the old Gospel chorus "Do Lord." "If you don’t bear the cross then you can’t wear the crown…way beyond the blue."

Dave Virkler

Monday, June 9, 2008

Shroud of Turin Going Public Again

It is known as the Shroud of Turin or simply “The Shroud”. The world-renowned piece is believed by many to show the image of Jesus Christ on the actual burial cloth used for following His crucifixion. Others are not so sure. So today, the famed item’s authenticity remains an ongoing source of continual debate.

The 14-foot long strip of linen has been in the possession of the Vatican since 1983. It was last revealed in public in the year 2000 when more than a million visitors viewed it. And now Pope Benedict has agreed to make the piece public again in 2010. The 81-year old head of the Catholic Church said, “It will be an occasion to "to contemplate the mysterious face, which silently speaks to the heart of men, inviting them to recognize in it the face of God".

Some get enthused, and others even need, to see physical evidence in order to somehow validate Biblical truth or bolster their own beliefs. But Jesus seemed to indicate otherwise – or even the exact opposite.

Just eight days after His resurrection, Jesus miraculously appeared before the disciples including a previously absent Thomas. It was there that the wavering one received what has become his common title of “Doubting Thomas". John 20:25 records his rather harsh and negative words to his friends about Christ’s return from the grave. “So he said to them, "Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe." That attitude would be quickly and radically altered!

In verse 26 of the chapter, Jesus suddenly appeared in the mist of His followers and offered them brief words of hope. But His attention was then immediately directed to the one with outspoken, but faltering, faith. Verse 27 reads, “Then He said to Thomas, "Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing." The next verse then reveals the disciple’s profound and heart-felt reply. "My Lord and my God!"

Thomas’ fully accurate assessment led to a humbling profession of saving faith. But an omniscient Savior knew well of the added advantage of a belief accompanied by His miraculously resurrected body only inches away. Accordingly, He spoke again to his newly educated disciple - words that were aimed to inform and inspire succeeding generations of followers. Verse 29 reads,. “Jesus said to him, "Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

The same principle is seen In Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth. In chapter 5 he relates the blessed hope and assurance of a future resurrection for all true believers. Sandwiched amid the Apostle’s words of comfort concerning the death of a Christian, he declares a key principle for God’s people. In verse 7 he writes, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” Although Jesus’ life and ministry did provide physical evidence for His supernatural claims, any faith today that demands that kind of proof remains suspect!

No doubt millions more will again visit the Shroud of Turin. And admittedly, the thought that it could be the real deal is simply incredible. But hopefully, those who enter its presence will have previously said in their hearts, “My Lord and my God”, having based their faith and eternity on His empty tomb and upon His living word!

Bill Breckenridge

Friday, June 6, 2008

D-Day and the Great Commission

June 6, 1944, is a day that will live in victory. American air and sea forces landed in German-occupied Normandy, and it was a turning point in World War II. Movie makers called it "The Longest Day," and "Saving Private Ryan" caught the grim fates of countless casualties.

This year, a display of 9/11 mementos and tributes will be shown at a museum in Normandy not far from the blood soaked beaches. "A Global Moment" will help to mark the 20th anniversary of the French museum because 9/11 is also seen as a day that changed the world.

Lost in most annual D-Day recollections is the stunning stress felt by Allied Supreme Commander General Dwight Eisenhower as he planned the fateful day. I quote from "D-Day: The Invasion of Europe," published years ago.

On Sunday night, June 4, 1944, the planners of the Normandy invasion met again. A high wind shrieked outside and rain lashed the headquarters windows. In spite of this, the weathermen predicted that the storm was breaking up and that by June 6th conditions would be much improved. While the High Command wrestled with the problem, the convoys were sent out again—subject to recall.

As the final deadline approached, the generals and the admirals had their say; then the meeting fell silent. The final decision and responsibility were General Eisenhower’s alone. At 4:15 on Monday morning he said briskly, "O.K., we’ll go." He had accepted the gamble and chosen to launch the invasion only one day late. Tuesday, the sixth of June, was to be D-Day.

In the nervous hours of June 5th, General Eisenhower prepared for the worst, writing on a slip of paper an announcement he hoped he would never have to make:
"Our landings in the Cherborg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops… The troops, the air, and the Navy all did that bravery and devotions to duty could do. If any blame attaches to the attempt it is mine alone."

He shoved the paper into a jacket pocket. He was too busy for the next six weeks to remember the note’s existence. When he found it there, it had become history that had never happened. ("D-Day: The Invasion of Europe," Pg. 26 & 27)

The Lord Jesus Christ, briefing His troops for a world-wide, age-long assault upon the Devil’s territory, pledged Himself to accompany them into battle. "Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15) and "…lo, I am with you always even unto the end of the world" (Matt. 28:20) have been at once the Great Commission and the Great Comfort. The disciples had been sent to a task for whose victory the Commander had promised to take full responsibility.

When the great missionary David Livingston, who explored much of Africa sharing the Gospel, reviewed his success, he affirmed the integrity of His Lord time after time. In his diary, when death lurked near, he quoted the Matthew passage and wrote of the calm and comfort Jesus’ promise provided.

When Livingstone returned to his homeland later the same year, the physical marks of illness and injury obvious, he again spoke of the precious promise of Christ. F. W. Boreham quoted Livingstone in " A Bunch of Everlastings" (Judson Press, 1920). "Would you like me to tell you what supported me through all the years…? It was this: ‘Lo, I am with you even to end of the world!’ On those words I staked everything, and they never failed. ... It is the word of a gentleman of the most sacred honour, so there’s an end of it."

Upon the truthfulness of God’s Word, the success of the Christian mission has always hung.

Dave Virkler

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

What Does Your Church Believe?

Church and presidential candidates have had a rough ride in the primaries. Barack Obama has finally resigned his Chicago church after videos of his former pastor’s prejudicial and anti-American comments were viewed by millions and a visiting Catholic priest caricatured Hillary Clinton as an entitled racist. John McCain also had his problems, eventually rejecting endorsements from two pastors whose public statements embarrassed him.

All at once, some church beliefs have zoomed into public awareness, stunning millions and revealing their relative ignorance of what their churches really believe. While it is true that some church beliefs may be distorted in the selective media reporting, the sweeping surprise really reveals a troubling ignorance of church beliefs.

In the case of Obama, one wonders how he could sit in a church for 20 years and only now object to blatant racism from the pulpit. We can only conclude that some sit in church and ignore what’s preached, or they don’t understand what’s said, or they may have slept through it all, making Sunday a unique day of rest.

I’m reminded of a story where a man asked a church-goer what he believed. He answered, "I believe what the church believes." The follow-up question was, "And what does your church believe?" "The church believes what I believe," answered the church-goer. "And what do you both believe?" The evasive answer was, "We both believe the same thing." That probably sums up millions of church attendees in America. There is a vague awareness of some core belief somewhere, but what that might be is unknown with any precision.

Many evidently sit in church because that’s their family tradition, they like the friendly atmosphere, the pastor is an engaging speaker or they need some religious status for whatever their purpose in their town, their culture or their political aspirations. As someone put it, "They come at 11 o’clock sharp and leave at 12 o’clock dull." Dr. Robert Cook used to say that churches ought to place a chair in the front for rigor mortis to set in. It’s like the lad who asked his father about portraits hanging in the church foyer honoring the war dead. "They are the men who died in the service," the father explained. The little boy asked, "Was it the 8:00 or 11:00 service?"

All kidding aside, I hope you know what your church believes lest you reinforce spiritual ignorance. Does it hold the Bible as the supreme authority, or does it include other authorities? Does it believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God or does it merely "take the Bible seriously but not literally"? Does it believe that one can get to Heaven by good works, adhering to the Golden Rule or making a try at keeping the Ten Commandments, or is salvation obtained by simple personal faith in Christ’s death, burial and resurrection? Is Jesus God in the flesh or merely an evolutionary apogee or a unique human? Is Christ risen, ascended and returning? Does it believe that all religions are created equal with many ways to heaven? Is there a Hell to shun and a Heaven to seek? Will all men stand before God and give an account of their acceptance or rejection of Christ? Is the church an engine of political activism or a soul-saving station?

Does your church have a doctrinal statement? If so, what does it say? Does the church really believe it and preach it?

In summary, do you know what’s going on, and do you care enough to be involved? If not, don’t criticize Obama.

Check out these Scriptures on some of the areas I outlined above: Bible – II Timothy 3:16; good works – Titus 3:5; salvation – I Corinthians 15; Jesus Christ – John 8:24, 14:6; future judgment – Romans 2:16, John 5:29; Christ’s return – Acts 1:11; I Thessalonians 4:17.

Dave Virkler

Heart Attack Warning Signs

A new study reports that most patients with heart disease are ignorant of the symptoms of an approaching heart attack. Researchers from School of Nursing at the University of California, San Francisco, examined 3,522 heart patients who either had a heart attack or had received heart disease treatment of some kind. Of the test group, 44% of the patients were poorly informed about heart attack warnings.

The medical community has known for decades that treatment and survival of a heart attack is most effective within the first hour after symptoms begin. When intervention is postponed even by a few precious hours, the treatment results are far less favorable.

While almost half of those with heart issues ignore, or don’t see, the obvious warnings of impending physical doom, even more fail to see the clear cut warnings of God concerning their other heart. Only in this case, the deadly symptoms include everyone – a tragic truth outlined by the Apostle Paul’s greatest doctrinal thesis. Romans 3:23 reveals, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The disease is universal.

The basic cause is also clearly laid out back in chapter one and seen in verses 21-23. “Because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man — and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.” Most of sin's gruesome symptoms are then described in the balance of the chapter. The disease is reprehensible!

The even more hideous end result of human sin is later spelled out in chapter 2 and verses 5-6. “But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each one according to his deeds.” The disease is punishable!

God’s word hass a clear and simple warning about death. Few can honesty say they cannot grasp the basic concept of Romans 6:23. “For the wages of sin is death.” But God’s word is also the way of life. Part two of the same verse reads, “But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The disease is preventable!

Then Romans 10:9-10 summarizes how the entire issue is about the fixing a broken heart. The passage shares what must be done to prepare the spiritual heart for death before the physical heart fails to beat. “That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” The disease is curable!

It’s all about the heart and about responding to God’s warning and cure through Jesus Christ. And for those who effectively deal with both, their glorious future is simply unfathomable!

Bill Breckenridge

Monday, June 2, 2008

Depression Era Cash Unearthed

Dan Deming was aware of the old rumors about buried treasure on his Wisconsin farm from his grandfather. But he never took seriously the stories about an eccentric man who may have hidden cash away back in the '30s and '40s- until now.

Mr. Deming did search casually for a time the after receiving a metal detector for his birthday a few years ago. Then this week, while tearing down a 100-year-old shed on his property, a rusted box appeared which contained wads of currency dating back to the Depression days. The bills were badly deteriorated, which made counting the cash difficult. But the box also contained scraps of newspaper with dollar amounts written on them. Instead of selling the bills to collectors, Deming turned them over to the U.S. Treasury's Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which redeems mutilated currency for face value.

While saving for the proverbial ‘rainy day’ is generally a good practice, Scripture warns about that attitude becoming life’s highest goal and priority. In Matthew chapter 25 Jesus gave what has become known as “The Parable of The Talents”. There He told the story of a man who gave his servants different amounts of money based on their individual business abilities. The amounts ranged from a high of 5 talents down to the low of just one – a talent being equivalent to about $700 U.S. dollars and no doubt a large sum in those days. He was hoping for each servant to invest or use what they had received to increase the original amount as they were able.

Upon the master’s return, he was pleased that two of the servants had doubled their money. They were rewarded accordingly for their efforts. But the man who had received just one talent portion became fearful and insecure and physically buried the cash. This man infuriated his employer. His lack of action cost him not only any reward, but his job as well.

The main point of the story was stated to Jesus in verses 29-30. ”For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” In a similar parable the Lord paralleled the good versus the evil servant, concluding with additional thoughts on the subject in just one concise sentence in Luke 12:48. “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required.” In a word, Christians are expected to continually use their God-given gifts and abilities, large or small, for His honor, glory and kingdom.

In Ephesians 2, the Apostle Paul wrote that the priority for God’s people is not simply getting forgiven and then casting their gaze heavenward for the duration of the earthly journey. After clearly conveying that forgiveness comes not by works, but through grace and faith alone, his very next ‘post-salvation’ words turn immediately back to works. Verse nine declares, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” In Titus 3:8 he expressed this same truth. “This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works.”

Aside from the responsibility of every believer to fully serve God because that is their ‘reasonable service’ (Romans 12:1) there is the additional aspect of their eternal future. The Lord addressed this in Matthew 6:19-20. His pointed remarks included what to do, what not to do, and why. Referring to the inappropriate usage, or storage, of earthly possessions, He said, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

There are indeed many indicators that help reveal one’s true spiritual status. But few are clearer than the one found in that very next verse. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Bill Breckenridge