Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Economic Troubles Continue

News on the economic front remains anything but positive as evidenced on several fronts.

First, the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city index reported that home sales in May dropped off by some 15.8 percent, the steepest rate ever. Topping the list was Las Vegas and Miami, losing 28.4 and 28.3 percent respectively. Along with this telling sign, record fuel prices continue to plague many Americans, forcing them to reevaluate their lifestyles and make hard choices in prioritizing their spending habits.

The White House also projected a $482 billion budget deficit for the coming year ending in September 2009. This, too, would be the highest number ever recorded in this vital area. Then to add to the numerous negative trends, banks have tightened up on loans, further hurting a recovery from the economic bind.

Without question the next President and Congress will have a huge and serious task to address if Americans are going to live the life they have become accustomed to. In many ways, life is all about money. And now many who assumed they would always have a fair degree of comfort and security are beginning to think otherwise in a world where nothing seems to be all that certain.

Most everything in life has its price. But there is something that can never be bought because it is something that comes paid in full, despite being beyond any monetary value or cost. While writing about forgiveness of sin in Jesus Christ, the Apostle Peter wrote, “Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” (1 Peter 1:18-19)

Paul also referred to the cost of redemption through Christ with the price mentioned in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. “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.”

But perhaps the clearest and most sobering statement about how trivial are economic factors when applied to spiritual matters is seen in Matthew 16:26-27. There, the one who bought what is priceless uttered the one question which all must ultimately consider. “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”

Many Americans are strained and stressed by the continual negative news on the nation’s economic front. But their greatest need is not financial. It is simply an affirmative response to the positive news of God’s free gift of salvation. Saving faith in Christ procures assets that never ever lose their value. They provide eternal security, daily peace, and the very best way to deal with the truth seen in Proverbs 23:5. “Will you set your eyes on that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; They fly away like an eagle toward heaven.”

Bill Breckenridge

Monday, July 28, 2008

Obama at the Western Wall

As the Obama juggernaut rolls on, criticism or adulation mounts depending on one’s politics or preference. To his enemies, Barack Obama can do nothing right. To his friends, he can do nothing wrong. Hopefully, there is a center position where all can simply accept at face value what he does or says as sincere.

The latest point of contention is over the written prayer he had folded and stuck between the massive stones of the Western Wall in Jerusalem. In a bold violation of supplicational privacy, a young seminarian watching nearby retrieved the handwritten prayer after Obama left, and its text found its way into a major daily newspaper. Now, the whole world can read Obama’s prayer:

"Lord — Protect my family and me. Forgive me my sins, and help me guard against pride and despair. Give me the wisdom to do what is right and just. And make me an instrument of your will."

If it weren’t that it was Barack Obama who had left this prayer, no one would care since untold thousands from around the world visit the Western Wall and leave similar prayers. I have stood there myself 10 times and watched the steady flow of Jewish and Gentile people visit this place known as the center of the world as Ezekiel 5:5 tells, "Thus says the Lord God, ‘This is Jerusalem; I have set her at the center of the nations, with lands around her.’" Ezekiel 38:12 speaks of restored Israel as "people…gathered from the nations, who have acquired livestock and goods, who dwell in the midst of the land." "Midst" means summit or the place of piling up of the earth.

For long centuries, the Western Wall was called the Wailing Wall. Muslims dominated the area and allowed Jews only periodic visits. At the Wall, they could come as close as possible to the revered site of the Temple platform and weep for the ruined Temple and pray for its restoration. Obama stood at the place where hardened Israeli soldiers stood in 1967 and wept in their victory in the Six Day War because Israel had gained control of this sacred real estate for the first time in 2,500 years.

Obama stood in a special place of national prayer. If he had invoked the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ instead of just "Lord," it would have eased the fears of those who suspect him of an incorrect Christian view or even Muslim association. His generic prayer deserves no textual criticism, for he went farther than most politicians would risk. Who can fault prayer for family protection, wisdom and pleading for God’s will?

However, focusing special prayer at the Western Wall confuses Old Testament Temple supplication with the New Testament pattern. Until Christ died on the cross of Calvary, national prayers were channeled from the Temple Mount (II Chronicles 7:14–16). New Testament Christians, which Obama has claimed himself to be, are to pray "in Jesus’ Name" (John 14:13 & 14). Christ clearly stated in John 14: 6, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me."

There is only one prayer by an unsaved person that God promises He will always answer. It is the sinner’s prayer of Luke 18:13: "‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified…"

General "civil religion," as it is called, is a soothing and commendation exercise. But personal regeneration is available only through the repentant sinner’s prayer. We hope the private lives of all high-level office-seekers would include this suppliant’s prayer. At the least, any ordinary citizen can richly contribute to the public good by praying the personal sinner’s prayer.

Dave Virkler

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Biblical World Unity

I just finished listening to Barack Obama as he wound down his multi-country tour with a comprehensive speech in Berlin calling the world to its potential unity.

Proclaiming he was a "citizen of the world" and stressing his intimate friendship with Berlin and Germany, Obama indicated that this was the moment for politicians and nations to save the world. He cited the Berlin Airlift of 60 years ago and the more recent breaking down of the Berlin Wall as springboard events to underscore his apparent zest for breaking down all barriers to cooperation, freedom and human advance in the world.

Without directly indicating that he was a global messiah of sorts, Obama surely spoke as one who promotes religious, racial, cultural and economic global unity moving toward sweeping secular salvation.

Commentators noted that most Americans and even John McCain could agree with much of what Obama said. It was a safe speech without particulars, and it spoke to the basic yearning of most of the world’s people.

Global peace, unity, equality and progress are commendable goals by anyone, anywhere, in any time, but whenever such presidential hopefuls give exuberant speeches to a world audience, most of what the Bible says concerning causation and redemption is woefully absent. Sinful human nature is the source of violence, mayhem, war and conflict, but according to much of the current rhetoric, all we humans need is a little more universal understanding of man’s deepest yearnings and some minor readjustments. We all mean well and could do a little better if we’ll just respond favorably to positive rhetoric and rejigger our national priorities.

Europe’s woes arose out of the demon-influenced Hitlerian thinking that the state was God and its leaders were infallible. Except for effective evangelism, post-World War II Europe still lies in the throes of crippling secularism and even dangerous occultism with hatred of Jews, renewed Nazism and emboldened Islam threatening long-term stability.

In America, convictionless and tepid Christianity is growing with fewer so-called evangelicals holding to the inspiration of Scripture, the solitary way of salvation in Christ or the realities of Hell. Injecting personal Biblical faith into a presidential campaign is thought to be injurious to one’s political health. And many churches would rather entertain than teach sound doctrine.

While believers should never be pessimistically oriented, neither should we fail to see the pathetic folly of great political plans without Christ as Savior and God as Sovereign of the nations. Jeremiah’s soul analysis still stands: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). Exterior disorders are best addressed from interior redemption. 2 Corinthians 5:17 declares, "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new."

God still warns in Psalm 127:1, "Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; Unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain." And to the obstinate, He says, "The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God" (Ps 9:17).

We should pray that the U.S. presidential candidates, both of whom say they are acquainted with Christ as Savior, see beyond the laudable rhetoric and sense that there is a higher power to which all nations’ allegiance is to belong.

And, while we are "in a holding pattern to keep the peace while we preach the Gospel," as former Senator William Armstrong once said, ultimately only the Lord Jesus Christ will rule a peaceful, unified world in an era to come. Hymn-writer Isaac Watts put it, "Jesus shall reign where’er the sun Does his successive journeys run, His kingdom stretch from shore to shore, Till moons shall wax and wane no more." Habakkuk 2:14 foretells, "For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea."

Dave Virkler

Thursday, July 17, 2008

American Culture and the Gospel

I’ve just returned from Honduras where I visited numerous homes, preached in five churches and shared my testimony at a closing rally with several hundred. It was my second visit to this country, this time in San Pedro Sula, the largest city in Honduras. (Tegucigalpa is the capitol, and national pride always lists it as the country’s largest city.)

I was struck with the dichotomy of the culture. In the city square is a marvelous mall with an eatery where the restaurants match those in the U.S. and high-level stores rival any in America. But the poverty in the sprawl of outlying areas not far away is stunning. In many of these areas, godly pastors labor tirelessly for a salary of just few hundred dollars a month. Twenty of these heroes and their congregations invited teams to come for house-to-house visitation, church preaching and a closing rally.

In the most humble dwellings, I prayed with several to receive Christ and with others for rededication. One convert had murdered his brother and felt responsible for the death of his wife. It would be hard to question his sincerity in knowing he’s a sinner in desperate need of a forgiving Savior. He had never been to church and had refused to listen to anyone speak to him about Christ, but he let me share my personal testimony and the plan of salvation.

Some teams visited public schools where they had freedom to present the Gospel that Christ died for their sins, He rose again, and if the students would receive Him as Savior they would be saved. Many did just that. In America, if a principal allowed this on Monday, he would be in court on Tuesday.

Our combined team efforts recorded 225 decisions for Christ in homes and schools and 25 decisions in the Saturday rally. Much of this open door is because we are Americans and the people will listen to us. English is the global language of commerce, computers, air traffic control and, increasingly, Gospel missions. Increasingly, the world is learning English. I believe God’s purpose in that is so that our influence enables them to learn about God, and His saving Son, Jesus Christ through the vehicle of English. Christian students are going to missionary “language school” in the U.S. simply by going to school.

My translator was a 17-year old young man who spoke fluent English. He has studied it since the earliest grades, as increasing numbers are doing not only in private schools but public schools. “Bilingual”—meaning English and Spanish are spoken—is a kind of badge of achievement posted on schools and even church signboards.

“Do people want to come to America?” I asked him. “Yes,” he answered. “Everyone here wants to go to America.” I continued, “Why don’t they go?” His answer is stuck in my mind. “The country won’t let them out. If they go, they will never come back. I am going to study in college in Atlanta next fall, and I am having trouble getting my study visa.” A boy in one of the churches in which I preached wanted to practice his English with me and said, “My teacher told me to learn and practice English if I ever wanted to make something of myself.”

In some homes there is no husband/father present. When I asked where he was I was told, “He’s in America working to support us.” When I asked, “How long?” I was told, “Five years” in one instance and “Two years” in another. In the churches, youth and adults would crowd around me after the services as though I were a celebrity. Much of it was because I was an American who shared Christ.

When I asked my translator if people there admired Americans, I was told that actually they respect and admire Americans very much. As evidence of this, I found 100 channels on the hotel TV, many of which were from the States. The people have copied our styles, and they have KFC, McDonalds, Burger King, T.G.I. Fridays, Subway, etc.

Jesus said, “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:48c). Honduras—yes, all of Central America—is our backyard and receptive to our culture. While styles, language and food are increasingly copied, let us believers focus on exporting the Gospel. In foreign lands, increasing numbers have an open ear to the Gospel simply because we tell it in English.

It is an opportunity and obligation too profound to squander.

Dave Virkler

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over

Major League Baseball’s All-Star summer classic at Yankee Stadium was a wave goodbye to such games played there, and the hometown cheering was consistent with its finality. It set the record for length and tied for innings played. After 15 innings, the American League prevailed for the 12th straight time. Adding insult to injury, the All-Star Game determines home field advantage in the World Series, and the National League has come up short again for the forthcoming October series.

Former Yankee catcher, Hall of Famer and beneficiary of an honorary degree from Montclair State University, Yogi Berra shone in his usual ungrammatical way during a break interview. Yogi, who lives near the church I pastored in Montclair, NJ, has a local museum and stadium named after him at Montclair State. He’s famous for convoluted syntax and grammar such as, “You can observe a lot by watching.” Last evening’s wrenching game brought to mind his most famous, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” And it wasn’t over ‘til it was over after 15 hair-raising innings.

Only God knows the future, and He did not reveal his prescience on Tuesday. But spiritually, our game is won even though we don’t know how many innings there will be. We are not the American League; we are the Heavenly League with superior management and assured victory. How can this be with all the seeming setbacks, obstacles, frustrations, scandals and seeming losses in the Kingdom? 1 Corinthians 15:57-58 is upbeat in a downhill world: “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” The innings may be weird, but the outcome is foregone supremacy.

An example is Luke 21:16-18: “But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, and you will be hated by all because of My Name. Yet not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.” Life’s worst—death—parallels the promise of protection. Indeed, physical death is merely running the bases toward home plate.

More is going on than mortal eyes behold. The Church Age, the purpose of which is to complete the Body of Christ, ends its final inning only after the final “outing.” By believers reaching out in evangelism, sinners hear the Word, respond in receiving Christ and are added to Christ’s Body known as the New Testament Church.

Romans 10:14-15 asks the ultimate witnessing questions. “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!’”

Christ’s Rapture return (I Thessalonians 4:17) only follows the global evangelism of Acts 1:8. Acts 15:14 describes our present witness so Christ can “take out a people for His Name.” Verse 16 says, “After this he will return….”

In the Father’s house are those many dwelling places. When they are finished and match the number of redeemed occupants, Christ will come again and receive us to Himself (John 14:1–3).

Yogi has it right even if awkwardly stated, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” And now, for us, it’s nearly over. Global evangelism is accelerating; millions are coming to Christ. The Body is nearing completion, and we’re almost home. Any day now the game’s over.

And we win!

Dave Virkler

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

FARC Hostages Escape

Their crisis is over but their memories remain fresh. The 15 hostages recently freed from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) through an amazing rescue effort have given a glimpse into life on the run in the brutal jungles of Colombia.

The 5 ½-year long nightmare was filled with harsh treatment like being chained around their necks like dogs and forced at gunpoint to march while carrying heavy backpacks. In describing FARC’s activities, they witnessed poor, illiterate children who were forcibly recruited and then threatened with death if they tried to leave. Others saw babies denied medical care.

The militant terrorist group funds itself through drug trafficking and kidnapping. The FARC was established in the 1960s as the military wing of the Colombian Communist Party and originated as a guerrilla movement. The Colombian government estimates FARC, now the oldest insurgent group in the Americas, has 6,000-8,000 members, while others believe the numbers could reach as high as 18,000 guerrillas.

Often the level of cruelty inflicted by man on his fellow men defies description or logic – unless biblical truth is sought out for an explanation. To understand the evil acts of men requires ‘considering the source’ - something Jesus spoke to in John chapter 8. After confronting the typically critical and hypocritical Pharisees, he finally addressed their main problem beginning in verse 44. “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.” Then Peter shares in his first epistle the basic goal of the ultimate spiritual terrorist. “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

A quick glance in any direction quickly reveals that the devil is highly proficient at what he does. His captives litter the planet’s landscape and his schemes wreak havoc world-wide. (2 Corinthians 11:14, 1 Timothy 2:26) And his plans also have the potential to affect believers and stand in the way of productive ministry, as Paul spoke of in 1 Thessalonians 2:18. “Therefore we wanted to come to you — even I, Paul, time and again — but Satan hindered us.”

The terror and tactics of God’s adversary are clear and potent. But they remain no match for God’s Son. His response to the evil one is clear and direct. “He who sins is of the devil , for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8) Christ's success is also without question. “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

Being taken captive by a terrorist group is an experience thankfully that few will ever know. But being kidnapped and bound by God’s enemy is something all are literally born into. (Psalm 51:5) But the one and only rescue from that eternal fate will be known only by those whose release comes through God’s great grace and faith in is His Son, Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 2:8)

Bill Breckenridge

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Is Solar Power The Answer?

The energy crisis is in high gear and we may have seen just the tip of the iceberg! The cause is basically a simple one - supply and demand. Several larger, and key, nations are now using and craving the limited energy resources that were once primarily bought up by heavily
industrialized countries. Simply stated, there is a growing market on the limited supplies, and economics 101 shows how that typically means rising prices.

Aside from that painful reality, one of the greatest energy sources imaginable literally showers itself down upon the planet on a daily basis. It source - our own sun. Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, says "Every single day when the Sun comes up we are bathed with enough energy in one day to supply all the power we need for five years across the globe.” That’s the stunning good news. The not so good news is that solar technology is still quite expensive thereby limiting its usage, growth and staggering potential. Even so, some experts say that solar power could provide 10 percent of the nation's power needs buy the year 2025, but only if the government would allow incentives to make the pricey technology more attainable and worth pursuing.

While the energy produced by the sun is amazing, it is fully dwarfed by the power of God’s Son. In just one of his many references to God’s undeniable power, the Apostle Paul tied the energy of God to the redemption of men. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)

God’s power is seen on two prime spheres. His control of all things physical and material is shown in Romans 1:20. “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.”

But the extent of God’s mighty power goes far deeper than even creating and maintaining the universe. It extends to the lives of those who make Christ their own Savior through faith. Ephesians 1:18-20 records, “The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places.” And then in Philippians 3, Paul reveals his deep desire to know more than a mere surface level of the power spoken of in Ephesians chapter one. His passion was to know divine power on an internal and personal level – something made abundantly clear in verse 10. “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection.”

But then the apostle voiced what should be the norm for and desire of any new creation in Christ who desires to experience the energy of the His or her Creator. Both Paul himself and Peter presented the undisputed effectiveness of the literal power of resurrection when properly channeled through the life of a committed believer. First Paul shares, “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." (Ephesians 3:20) But Peter takes it a step forward by revealing the extent of what God’s power is capable of. 2 Peter 1:3 reads, “As His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue.”

The Greek word for power is ‘dunamis’ from which the English word dynamite is derived. It speaks of a miraculous and explosive energy. And while the world seeks the crucial energy to power their natural world, all who are spiritually perceptive will set their priorities on a higher plane. They will also learn about, harness and utilize the supernatural power which can fully fuel a godly lifestyle through an energy source that never fails nor will ever be in short supply!

Bill Breckenridge

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Bringing the Gospel to Honduras

From July 7-12, I’ll be in San Pedro Sula, Honduras in house-to-house evangelism and preaching each evening in local churches. I arrive in Honduras on Sunday, July 6 and fly back to the U.S. on Sunday, July 13.

My first evangelism visit to Honduras was to La Ceiba in 2005. La Ceiba is on the Caribbean Sea coast and is the country’s third largest city. This year, I’ll be in San Pedro Sula, which is inland and Honduras’ second largest city. Honduras in an emerging Central American country. It has coasts on the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean and is bordered by Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

Honduras is open to the Gospel. I’ll be part of a STAR (Sowing, Teaching And Reaping) team sponsored by Bible Basics International, which is headquartered in Odessa, FL near Tampa. In both La Ceiba and San Pedro Sula, several local churches sponsor week-long efforts for STAR teams by setting up visitation appointments for the team with interested families and then sponsor evening meetings in churches. Schools allow—even welcome—qualified medical people from the team to speak directly on AIDS, which is exploding in Central America. In many instances, direct evangelistic invitations are allowed, and students decide for Christ on public school property.

Hondurans are well acquainted with American culture. Hotels may have as many as 40 U.S. TV channels available. Even though some will express dislike for Americas, they are copying our ways and learning our language. On my last trip, I asked why the girls were dressed the way they were and was told, "They are copying you Americans!" Many students are in English schools to learn our "mother tongue," which has become the foremost language of the world. While some Hondurans express distress with America, most would come to the U.S. in a heartbeat if given the opportunity. Even pastors are discouraged from coming to the U.S. for training conferences for fear they will never return thus depleting the population.

On my visit in 2005, I was able to lead ten people to Christ in their homes or places of business as I witnessed though a Spanish translator. One visit saw a father and grandfather receive Christ. In another home, both husband and wife received the Lord. In a hot, humid, little neighborhood store, a woman asked Christ to be her Savior. In another visit a young man who was recovering from gunshot wounds suffered in a holdup opened his life to Christ.

The final house visit was to a well-to-do gated community where an English-speaking businessman and alcoholic lived. His father had spoken English fluently. "He’s all yours, Dave," our team’s translator told me. "You won’t need an interpreter for this one." After nearly an hour of conversation, he surrendered to the Lord, and he came to church to hear me preach that night.

In another home, a man dying of cancer that was eating away his chest refused to accept Christ. He had promised his father he’d never leave the Catholic Church even though it meant he would not be born again and enter Heaven. I asked whether his father was in Heaven, and he said he didn’t know. I told him that if his father was in Hell, he was pleading for someone to tell him how to avoid that place as Luke 16:27-31 says.

"‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’"

I pointed out that his one witness to truth was the Bible but he refused to hear. His dear born-again Christian wife sat nearby crying as we talked. We finally left as she sat sadly nearby her dying husband. But we had discharged our obligation and sadly felt like the prophet in Ezek 3:18-19:

"When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet, if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul."

I preached at a city-wide rally on the last night of our 2005 trip. I am still in touch with a young man who rededicated his life in that meeting. He told me, "I want to be just like you, and preach and preach and preach." He is continuing in the things of the Lord.

I am thankful for the many friends who have supported this year’s endeavor financially and for those who are praying for a harvest of souls as many are born into the Kingdom of God. If you can, breathe a prayer for me July 6-13. Many of the sponsoring local church people in Honduras are having all night prayer meetings, even with fasting, as they anticipate a rich harvest of souls.

Dave Virkler

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

What People Believe

The stats are alarming. After 35,000 adult Americans were polled regarding their religious beliefs, it is evident that their religious convictions are softening. They are victims of ecumenism, pluralism, lack of discernment and murky teachings. D. Michael Lindsay of Rice University said, "The survey shows religion in America is, indeed, 3,000 miles wide and only three inches deep."

America is still a bastion of belief if belief is defined outside strict Biblical theology. Ninety-two percent believe in Go, 74 % believe in the afterlife, and 63% declare their particular Scriptures to be God’s words. However, fully 70% of Americans with some religious affiliation hold the view that there are multiple ways to Heaven. Most troubling is that that 57% of evangelicals said that many religions can lead to eternal life.

The decline of commitment in the "culture wars" is seen in a softening of younger evangelicals’ commitment to social causes such as anti-abortion and anti-gay rights. One analyst said, "Americans don’t believe in anything yet believe in everything," enhancing the warning of Peter Marshall years ago when he prayed, "Help us to stand for something lest we fall for anything."

A faltering doctrinal emphasis is probably to blame as some have espoused the wretched dictum I heard many years ago that, "doctrine divides, but Jesus unites." America is wallowing in the quicksands of theological mush. Some younger evangelicals have been drawn into the Emergent Church movement. That is defined as a post-modern position where spiritual seeking has replaced Biblical standing, and their highest calling is doctrinal tolerance fueled by a deliberate retreat from the objective truth of the Bible. One leader of the movement called for a five-year moratorium on determining whether homosexuality is Scripturally out of bounds.

Let it be clear: There is one way to salvation and Heaven. It is linked to a Person and anchored to a personal belief. Christ said in John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me."

John 3 is abundantly clear, not just as a proof text but a whole dialoging context between Jesus and Nicodemas, a Jewish Supreme Court justice. If anyone could make heaven by good works, national heritage and human attainment, it would have been he.

"Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ 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?’ Jesus answered, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, "You must be born again." The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit’" (John 3:3-8).

The first disciples clearly understood it and said so under pain of punishment and death. "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).

The popular path has never been the correct one. Matthew 7:13-14 says, "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it."

The misty-eyed evangelical respondents to the survey either don’t know, don’t care or don’t like what the Bible says. Shame on pastors and teachers who ignore or distort it, and shame on hearers who revise or reject it. Evidently the road to hell is paved with revisionist theology and affirmed by faulty surveys.

Dave Virkler

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

By the Book

Personal experiences can teach Biblical truth. This isn’t about a news story, but it illustrates a timeless lesson.

A few weeks ago, I plugged in a refrigerator, but it wouldn’t turn on. Although electricity was clearly going in, no compressor motor was running to make it cold.

Several possibilities came easily to mind. Perhaps a circuit breaker had tripped, or the wall plug was bad, or a faulty connection had come undone, etc., etc. Each of these checked out negatively. I got a screwdriver thinking to disassemble the insides of the control box from which the thermostat knob extended. At length I suspected a blown fuse in the refrigerator itself, but where was it located?

I asked my wife where we might find the instruction manual that came with the unit. Finding the trouble shooting section, my eye ran down the list. Under "Fails to start," I found a fascinating sentence. "May be in defrost cycle. Wait 30 minutes and unit will turn on."

Could it be? Yes, it was. We waited about 25 minutes, and, sure enough, the unit kicked in, and all was well. A couple of weeks before, the power to the refrigerator had been turned off—apparently just as it had started the defrost cycle. (Strange as it may seem, frostless refrigerators have a heater that activates once a day to melt accumulated frost, which then drips down into a pan and evaporates.)

I was reminded that, "When all else fails, read the instructions." Had I done that first, I would have saved much anxiety over a failed refrigerator. In life, people live in wrenching troubles because they ignore God’s manual of life—the Bible, the Word of God. It tells us what is wrong, why life won’t function as it should, how to fix the failure and how to keep our lives from spoiling.

Every descendant of Adam is naturally turned off from God. Romans 3:23 states, "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God." Romans 5:12 adds, "For as by one man sin entered into the world and death by sin, so death passed upon all men, for all have sinned." 1 Corinthians 15:22 gives both cause and remedy. "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive."

God’s manual gives clear instructions to get the power back on by accepting the repair work of the master spiritual craftsman. Nicodemas, the Jewish Supreme Court Justice who rendezvoused with Christ at night, learned from the Savior that it was by spiritual rebirth, being "born again" (John 3:3 & 5).

John explained it in John 1:11-13: "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood (heredity), nor of the will of the flesh (self will), nor of the will of man (desire of others), but of God." As noted preacher Stephen Olford once outlined, it is "not by human descent, design or desire."

Someone once said, "A baby has no past." Being born again gives a new life in which God remembers our sins no more. When the crippled mechanisms of life have left us hopeless and lifeless, God’s instruction manual saves the day and saves the soul who responds to its message of enduring repair in Christ.

Dave Virkler