Friday, November 28, 2008

Some Personal Thanksgiving Thoughts

My first reaction to Thanksgiving, of course, is what should be every Christian’s - namely to be grateful foremost for my salvation in Christ and the peace and security that brings. If we have nothing in this world other than that, we are infinitely, and eternally, blessed. And of course, for me, there are the added gifts of a godly wife, wonderful family, and being in full-time ministry here and elsewhere.

But my second thought is about something the Lord led me to do this past Friday night while giving a short devotional at church to the youth group. We had just served them a Thanksgiving turkey dinner and then I gathered them together just before the dessert. I picked a great kid whose name was Jordan. He’s twelve. And I asked him to detail everything he had done since the moment he opened his eyes that morning. I would let him proceed with a few things and then interrupt by saying something like this: “So you first awakened and got up from a warm comfortable bed, in a beautiful safe home with loving parents down the hall?” Of course he said Yes. I then said, “You know that even opening your eyes is a gift because we have two people in our church who are blind and others in such great pain that they can barely walk”.

Then I asked him for his next moves, which included getting dressed, eating breakfast and heading out to school, etc. So again, I asked, “How many sets of clothes and shoes did you have to pick from? “ His answer, after laughing, was, “You don’t even want to know”. I followed again saying, “And while you then tried to decide what to eat, for the first of your 3+ meals that day, there are millions of kids who will never learn to read or write, and who wake up every single day cold, hungry, and scared - some starving to death as we speak.” Next I asked him, “Did you then jump into a nice new warm car, get driven to the front door of a nice safe school, where you have friends and get a quality education?” ‘’That’s right,’ he said - although I’m not sure how much he was thankful for being sent to school?

But to make a long story short, we eventually got into Jordan’s evening hours where he described his typical life, including sports, friends, computer games, cell phones, and all of the things that characterize most of America’s youth culture today – not to mention us all sitting there in a beautiful church, with Christian friends, and programs designed for their fun and spiritual edification. I think the kids finally began to get where I was headed.

We eventiually ended up with him going back to sleep and getting ready to do it all over again. But all of that to say that, as I spoke about spiritual things to others, I typically turned back the applicatiob on myself. I again realized that all the daily so-called ‘little things’, we never much think about are all great blessings from God’s hand. They are not just our ‘birth rights’ as Americans, as we often treat them.

To wrap up, I asked the kids to compare their lives to those we were exposed to in our missions conference a few weeks earlier – children who have been kiddnapped as child soldiers in Uganda. Or 9-10-year old girls sold into slavery and prostition by their own familes in Cambodia. And there were the street boys of Lima, Peru, who live on drugs in scavenging through dumps, and just trying to squeak out another painful day of survival.

I don’t know what impact I had on the kids that night. Hopefully some. But I know what it did for me as I reconsidered my many blessings – even apart from having the priceless possesion of forgiveness of my sin, along with a personal reationship with the Creator God who granted it!

“In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess 5:17-18)

Bill Breckenridge

If you enjoy these entries please e-mail us and let us know. Thanks and God bless!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanks to God!

Thanksgiving is the season for sumptuous meals, travel to family reunions, days off of school, a starting line in our sprint toward Christmas and a reason for a word from the White House.

In his annual Thanksgiving Proclamation, President Bush reviewed the Pilgrim settlers’ piety and recalled that Washington and Lincoln had issued sober proclamations in difficult times. In his 2008 call to thanks, one of approximately 100 presidential proclamations issued each year, Bush ended it as he always does saying he acted according to the Constitution and the laws of the land "in the year of our Lord, two thousand and eight." That phrase "in the year of our Lord" clearly indicates that all time is anchored to the coming of Christ, who is the Lord of each year and as divine benefactor is to be the central focus of all our thanks.

After outlining the death of Christ, Hebrews 13:15 says, "Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name."

According to Romans 1:21, the spiritually darkened pagan world slipped into its tragic mental and moral morass through lack of gratitude to God. "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."

Ingratitude is not merely a tragic oversight. It can bring certain disaster. Consider Deuteronomy 8:11-18. "Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God…lest—when you have eaten and are full, and have built beautiful houses and dwell in them; and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold are multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied; when your heart is lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage; who led you through that great and terrible wilderness, in which were fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty land where there was no water; who brought water for you out of the flinty rock; who fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do you good in the end—then you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth.’ And you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day. Then it shall be, if you by any means forget the Lord your God, and follow other gods, and serve them and worship them, I testify against you this day that you shall surely perish."

An excellent musical focus that embodies extensive gratitude is the old Swedish hymn "Thanks To God!".

Thanks to God for my Redeemer, Thanks for all Thou dost provide!
Thanks for times now but a mem’ry, Thanks for Jesus by my side!
Thanks for pleasant, balmy springtime, Thanks for dark and dreary fall!
Thanks for tears by now forgotten, Thanks for peace within my soul!

Thanks to God that Thou hast answered, Thanks for what Thou dost deny!
Thanks for storms that I have weathered, Thanks for all Thou dost supply!
Thanks for pain, and thanks for pleasure, Thanks for comfort in despair!
Thanks for grace that none can measure, Thanks for love beyond compare!

Thanks for roses by the wayside, Thanks for thorns their stems contain!
Thanks for home and thanks for fireside, Thanks for hope, that sweet refrain!
Thanks for joy and thanks for sorrow, Thanks for heav’nly peace with Thee!
Thanks for hope in the tomorrow, Thanks thro’ all eternity!

Dave Virkler

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Reconsidering The Retirement Dream

Just when you thought it was safe to go into retirement – the bottom fails out. That is the tragic reality for many Americans who are retired or hoped to be before long. The economic crisis has wreaked havoc with individual portfolios, the value of 401k’s, stocks, and just about everything in between.

According to AARP, even before the current crisis, some one in five people had put off retirement and six in ten workers 45 and older said they were delaying retirement and expected to work longer. About one in four said they’re working longer hours at work to try to make ends meet. For many, economic stress has meant that their standard of living has been lowered, resulting in cutting back on vacations, travel and other forms of entertainment.

Few would not acknowledge frustration and pain of working toward a material goal for an entire lifetime, only to see it quickly slip into oblivion. But there are far worse things in life. There is the failure to adequately prepare spiritually for the future beyond this life.

In addition to what should be common sense, the Bible also warns about counting too heavily on material things that are unstable at best. The Old Testament book of Proverbs repeatedly speaks to the unwise reliance on wealth and other material assets. And it comes from a man who was rich beyond words. ”He who trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like foliage." (Proverbs 11:28) “Do not overwork to be rich; because of your own understanding, cease! Will you set your eyes on that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings: they fly away like an eagle toward heaven.” (Proverbs 23:4-5)

This author’s wise and compelling words, and others like them, are best understood when viewed in light of One who is the very sum of all wisdom and truth. In Matthew’s account, Jesus spoke to the issue of anxiety over worldly cares and fragile possessions. In Matthew 6:31-34 we read, "Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

As the economic fear continues its growing grip on the nation, not even the most gifted of leaders can instantly fix the fiasco or predict the the future. It is beyond them now and always will be. But those who seek God's solutions to life’s problems, whether simple or complex, will find infinite assets and irrevocable promises. (Hebrews13:5) And while millions scheme and plot what is their next econonic move, hopefully wise Christians will take one other piece of sound advice – this time from the New Testament wisdom book for daily practical living.

"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." (James 4:13-15)

Bill Breckenridge

Monday, November 24, 2008

Christmas Fireworks

Fireworks were missing from the annual Patchogue, New York boat parade on November 23 because it excluded the name "Christmas." In previous years, it was called the Patchogue Christmas Boat Parade. This year, it was merely the Patchogue Boat Parade. The Patchogue town fathers decided that the word "Christmas" was an offense to a tiny minority, so they removed it to soothe the offended. It is likely the first salvo in the annual Christmas wars.

Although usually associated with Fourth of July celebrations, a $5,000 fireworks display by the internationally famous Fireworks by Grucci of Brookhaven was part of the Christmas Boat Parade last year. But Grucci declined to do so this year because they felt the change in the name nominally demoted the celebration into a secular observance and not a true Christmas event. A compromise effort to have fireworks for a minor light festival as part of the event fell through. The company felt the fireworks display would not honor the original purpose of the parade, which was to observe Christmas.

So, no fireworks in Patchogue this year. Parade attendance fell by one third.

When replacing "Christmas" with what is perceived as the more neutral "holiday," detractors are likely unaware that the origin of the word is "Holy Day." Sometimes secular objectors merely fool themselves running in absurd circles.

The very name Christmas, with it focus on Christ and His virgin-birth appearance in a humble Judean cow stall over two thousand years ago, has been a growing offense in recent years. As secular pluralism has become the tacit unspoken law of the land, the historic facts that gave us the holiday have been morphed into generic Winter Holidays or some vague "points of light" observance. The Patchogue flap is the first volley of multiple shots at Christmas itself. The birth of the Lord Jesus Christ was the greatest event since Creation, promised in Genesis 2:15 leading all the way through Micah 5:2 and fulfilled in tax-payer clogged Bethlehem in the days of Roman Caesar Augustus and his lackey King Herod.

Even then, Christmas was a problem for politically-focused rulers and largely ignored by religious leaders. When Herod quizzed the wise men so he could beat a murderous path to Jesus’ residence, the Jewish scholars had to search their Bibles to specify the place. Herod wanted fireworks but the wrong kind. He ravaged the populace of young children to eradicate any competitor to his throne.

Ironically, from Bethlehem, one can see the cone-shaped hill known as the Herodium, where the wretched killer is buried, just a couple of miles from the town. Archaeologists have discovered his tomb inside this former opulent palace that became his burial vault. Herod’s coffin has been pulverized, likely by vengeance-seeking Jews, yet grateful Christian pilgrims daily stream through the birth-cave of Christ.

While secularists rewrite history and refuse to kneel at the manger, they increase their future pain of one day being forced to bow before the risen Christ. Philippians 2:7-11 merges His first and second comings. "…[He] made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

We sing in the hymn, "Let every kindred, ev’ry tribe, On this terrestrial ball, To Him all majesty ascribe, And crown, Him, Lord of all."

Christ may not be deemed worthy of His name in Patchogue or in other U.S. cities this Christmas, but He will be exalted above every name in the eternity to come. Men bow now willingly in subjection, but then they will bow forcibly in judgment. Christmas always focuses the choice.

Dave Virkler

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Firewall

You may have missed it in all the focus on the financial crisis, election follow-up and presidential transition, but a Christian college campus in California is the victim of the Montecito Tea Fire, which to date has destroyed over 800 homes and forced the evacuation of over 26,000 endangered people.

Westmont College in Santa Barbara is celebrating the deliverance of all faculty, staff and student lives while enduring the pain that eight structures, including dormitories and several educational buildings, are gone, and 16 faculty homes are burned to ashes. Memories are all that’s left.

The wild fire, fanned by 60- to 70-mile an hour winds, swept down a slope with such velocity that 800 students had to literally drop whatever they were doing to seek immediate refuge in the concrete block gym as the fire raged by. Tornado-like tongues of flame sliced through the campus, quickly turning homes and campus buildings into infernos and then smoldering cinders. Precious keepsakes were left behind as 41 faculty members and their families fled their campus homes. Sixteen of them would find nothing left when returning later, and thirty-five students also lost their rooms and belongings.

In the gym, some cried, others prayed and sang, and a few called home on their cell phones. A gas line failed, cutting off power to the campus. The gymnasium refuge was difficult but safe as sweltering heat made students sweat, smoke seeped in and ash even fell through the vents. The fireproof concrete walls divided the flames and protected the students with an incombustible shield.

By daybreak, the temporary gym tenants emerged, like Noah after the flood, to view an entirely different campus world. No life was lost through the perilous night, in great part because routine fire drills had prepped the student body for such a time as that, and they obediently raced to their prescribed refuge.

The many spiritual lessons they have learned are now seared into their memories. First, flee at once when the warning is given. Had they tarried in disbelief or lingered to rescue favored keepsakes, there would be casualties to mourn. If rigorous drills had been lacking, funerals would be planned instead of only structural rebuilding.

The fiery incident is loaded with biblical illustrations. Lot was told to exit Sodom before the fire fell and escaped with his life and his daughters, losing his wife because she turned to fix her gaze on things under fiery judgement. In a contrasting physical sense, Noah and his family boarded the ark and floated in a wooden chest that kept the flood waters outside.

Isaiah 43:2 promised God’s pilgrims, "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you."

The chorus of the old hymn "God Leads His Dear Children Along" picks up that theme. "Some through the waters, Some through the flood, Some through the fire, but all through the blood; Some through great sorrow, but God gives a song; In the night season and all the day long."

The indifferent wealthy man in Luke’s gospel found himself "tormented in this flame" (Luke 16:24), a fate that was totally avoidable had he heeded Moses and the prophets who pointed to Christ as God’s eternal fire escape. Romans 8:1 promises, "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit."

Westmont students will never forget the deflecting concrete walls that stood between them and fiery death. Christ, our great deliverer, is a sturdy firewall between believers and the judgment we deserve in our sinful selves. "He tasted death for every man," as Hebrews 2:9 says. A children’s Sunday School song says it all. "God’s judgment cannot fall on me, I’m covered by the blood you see. Jesus died on the tree, and His blood covers me. God’s judgment cannot fall on me."

Dave Virkler

You can find more information on the fire and recovery at Westmont’s website:

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

More Meaningless World Records

It debuted in 1955 and has remained oddly popular ever since – odd being the key word. It is the Guinness Book of World Records, a collection of the bizarre and amazing records in every imaginable sphere. This past week several more records were attempted, including a Tokyo man who ran a hundred meter dash in under 19 seconds – not exactly impressive unless doing so while down on all fours! The first edition of the ultimate record book debuted in 1955 and was an instant hit. Some 50,000 original copies were sold and then three more editions were produced due to demand over the ensuing 12 months.

In more recent years, another field of record setting has emerged and become wildly popular. It is called competitive eating. This ‘sport’ even has its own official governing body – ‘Major League Eating’. Actually this type of activity has been around for centuries only more so in the background. In the Edda, a collection of 13th-century Norse myths, a story is told of an eating contest between the god Loki and his servant (the servant won by eating the plate). But one of the most well known food frenzies is held in Coney Island, New York, at Nathan’s Famous, a hot dog-based restaurant founded back in 1916. This year’s winner of the annual tummy torture thriller was Joey Chestnut of San Jose, California, who downed a staggering 59 dogs in the 10-minute regulation match. It can only be imagined how this form of American ‘competition’ is viewed in places where hunger and starvation is a brutal fact of everyday life.

But in many ways, over-eating has become no laughing matter in America. The problem seems to stem primarily on what is known simply as ‘portion distortion’. The consequences of the trend are easily seen in the variety of health issues that are initiated, or exacerbated, by eating too much and/or too much of the wrong food.

With that said, Jesus spoke about a more serious issue than taking in too much by way of mouth. The Pharisees were pressing Him as usual - this time about why His disciples were transgressing tradition by not washing their hands before they ate. In Matthew chapter 15: 8-9, the Lord silenced their attack by relating the all-important difference between worshipping God externally with lip service versus sincerely and internally from the heart. He typically summed the whole matter up in a few concise and profound words. “When He had called the multitude to Himself, He said to them, "Hear and understand: not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man." (Matthew 15:10-11)

To discover what the Lord was getting at takes only a brief consideration of His half brother’s words in James chapter 3. Beginning in verse 5, he wrote, “Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.” Again, even a casual review of this passage reveals that what exits one’s mouth is far more harmful and deadly than what enters it!

Just imagine for a moment the untapped opportunities and potential of the church of Christ today. Imagine if some of the resources freely spent on excess and fancy foods were redirected to those for whom finding anything to eat is a matter of life and death? Consider briefly what might result if the time and energy regularly focused on ‘fine dining’ was instead spent on feeding and nourishing the Christian’s spiritual growth? And think about how much more effective the church would be in the world if it understood, and fully applied, the words of its Savor and leader in Matthew 4? “But He answered and said, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'" (Matthew 4:4)

There is an old, and fairly accurate, saying which goes as follows. “You are what you eat.” If so, then those in God’s family need to constantly consider their physical and spiritual diets. They must make any effort necessary to regulate their daily input according to the words of the prophet Jeremiah.

“Your words were found, and I ate them, And Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; For I am called by Your name, O LORD God of hosts.” (Jeremiah 15:16)

Bill Breckenridge

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Road Home

I sometimes feel inclined to loosely quote Christ from the cross regarding the haphazard moves toward fixing our national financial crisis, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." Seldom if ever, have American economists been so confused. Congress has allotted billions of dollars to failing banks and organizations, and now there is talk of even more. It is awarding more money to the miscreants, banks, brokerage houses, insurance companies, mortgage lenders and, in the near future, auto makers, credit card companies, and perhaps even cites and states. It all adds up to "trillionizing" our plight. I have no concept of what that even means.

Conservative Republicanism has been turned on its ear, detouring to a parallel road described by "Joe the Plumber" as "socialism"—inadvertent perhaps, but socialism nonetheless. The government is promising loans and grants, taking from the ordinary taxpayer his financial freedom for years to come, and spreading it among spendthrift and mindless financiers. The world’s largest insurance company, AIG, is now largely nationalized as others may well be. That is socialism by any account.

Socialism is defined as group ownership of the means of production and distribution as opposed to the individual doing so. More tragically understood, it is taking from the ambitious and giving to the less ambitious, which means we soon run out of ambitious people. Put another way, "When we rob Peter to pay Paul, we find lots of support coming from Paul."

The country has lost its collective mind. This is financial insanity, and we are told the only way to remedy its financial health disorder is deeper bankruptcy. The government has no money, and budget deficits and national debt have been mounting for decades. Like the prodigal son, bankers have been dwelling in riotous living in a foreign land of nonsense. Now that they are in want, they are trying to figure out a route home. The roads may be washed out, and the father’s amnesty may have expired.

Interestingly, in the story of the prodigal son, it says "he came to himself." It really means he looked into himself and saw what he really was and returned to sanity. He had been living in unreality and had gone somewhat insane. (The story of the prodigal son is in Luke 15:11-32. Read it for yourself.)

General unbelief produces mental instability according to Romans 1:21-23, which reads, in part, "… 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 …" "Fool" in this text is the same word from which we derive "moron." "Foolish" is a term meaning "unable to put the pieces together," that is, having all the facts but unable to assemble them meaningfully. "Thoughts" is a word from which we get "dialogue," typical of endless and empty discussions. Spiritual ignorance of God has translated into financial folly.

This end-times scenario is likely predicted by Christ in Luke 21:25-26. "And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken" (emphasis mine). "Distress" seems to mean "intense pressure." "Perplexity" is defined as "anxiety" or "distress," so much so as "having no way out." It is a quandary, to be at a loss, perhaps inadvertently describing the huge financial loss of recent weeks.

We hope that there is a road home and our economy regains equilibrium to live another day. If the story of the prodigal gives any hope, it requires of modern runaways that they repent and confess their sins. Financial disorder of the current magnitude indicates a kind of spiritual insanity that requires divine healing. Many have ignored the "unsearchable riches of Christ" in their mad scramble for wealth.

If the movers and shakers proceed only with human wisdom, the catastrophe may become permanent, and our nation will be devoured by strangers (aliens) as Isaiah 1:7 says. If sweeping repentance and confession occur, we can abide in the truth of 1 John 2:17: "And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever."

In my opening sentence I lifted Jesus’ quote from the Cross. "Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do…" (Luke 23:34). "Forgive" may also be translated, "Let be," as found in Matt. 27:49. Christ was likely saying, "Let the crucifixion continue to its end." Someone noted that there was something more important than judging sinners; Christ was judging sin by letting the crucifixion continue to its end. He paid the full price so that we never have to pay any price for salvation. That is the superior economics of redemption.

Dave Virkler

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Heart Disease In Young Children?

A new study shows that arteries of obese teens often look more like those of a 45-year old, complete with plaque buildup often associated with heart attacks or stroke. Scientists used ultrasound imaging to do the research in order to detected fatty depositsin the arteries of the participants.

In addition, it was discovered that more than half of the 70 youngsters, ages 10 to 18, had a "vascular age" nearly 30 years older than their actual age, putting them at risk for early heart attacks, stroke - and death. The research was presented Tuesday in New Orleans at the American Heart Association's gathering.

Physical heart disease is unquestionably a serious matter. But spiritual heart disease is far more deadly because it is eternally devastating - an alarming truth displayed throughout Scripture.

* A spiritually unhealthy and callous heart leads to the judgement of God.

"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." (Romans 2:4-6)

* A spiritually healthy heart is formed by faith, trust and belief in Jesus Christ.

"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." (Romans 10:9-10)

* A spiritually healthy heart leads to Christian service and Godly living.

"But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness." (Romans 6:17-18)

*A spiritually healthy heart can literally affect the condition of the physical heart.
"Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and depart from evil. It will be health to your flesh, and strength to your bones." (Proverbs 3:7-8)

* Finally, a spiritually healthy heart opens the door to a heavenly home.

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." (Matthew 5:8)

The lead author of the above study, Dr. Geetha Raghuveer of the University of Missouri Kansas City School of Medicine, stated, "There's a saying that you're as old as your arteries."

That may be true of one's physical heart chronologically speaking. But the author of creation itself, and the source of all Biblical truth, has revealed something of ultimate importance. He gave a blessed promise to His Old Testament people and one which applies today to all whose hearts have been made eternally healthy by faith in His Son.

"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them." (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

Bill Breckenridge

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"Habitations of Cruelty"

This past weekend was the annual missionary conference at Chapel On The Hill here in North Jersey. It is my home church as it is Dave’s, and a loyal supporting church of this organization. It is also where I serve as Associate Pastor, along with my ministry duties here like this blog.

The conference weekend is arguably the most crucial part of the entire church year. The reason is simple. It is the moment where we personally, and collectively, decide on the extent to which we will obey what is commonly known as “The Great Commission” (Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15). Our church has taken that challenge, and command, quite seriously over the years. We have made reaching out globally with the good news of Jesus Christ a priority – something the percentage of the church missons budget clearly affirms.

Our missionary family is what I would call a ‘balanced’ one. It encompasses almost every imaginable type of ministry, foreign and domestic. But as of this weekend, that balance may now be complete, or nearly so. This year, Pastor Paul Anderson led the local congregation on a journey into formerly hidden places that could be rightfully called the spiritually darkest on planet earth.

After sensing a burden from God, he had written a book over the past year, a very difficult and hard book. That work would be integrated into a new ministry implemented at the conference entitled “CUPbearers”. The book itself, “Habitations of Cruelty”, focused on some of the ‘unseen’ children of the world in three specific locations – Cambodia. Uganda, and Peru. In each place, unthinkably evil things are happening with precious young lives who remain invisible to a world largely ignorant of the massive and grizzly reality there.

The book was given out, without cost, to all that just promised to read it. It focused on two small ministries and one brave young lady. All three were involved in doing what they can for children forced into lives of incomprehensible violence and pain – things which may seem like purely fiction in modern America. We were made to consider the child soldiers of Uganda by Grace Akallo, who was one herself until escaping a personal hell on earth. There was the Ralpa House in Cambodia – a ministry that rescues and shares Christ with young girls sold in to the living nightmare of forced prostitution by their own families. Then there was Shama Center in Peru, a sanctuary where young, abused, drug-addicted boys living in streets of Lima can find physical relief and spiritual truth.

After our people listened to the representatives of each ministry, they were challenged to give. Pastor Anderson stated, ”The book is done. I’m not now an author or an activist. God has now called me to be a beggar.” He asked for 1 dollar each week and 1 minute of prayer per week for each outreach. That’s 3 dollars and 3 minutes per week – not much by any standard, especially for those of us for whom the amount would mean little more than giving up one large pizza in a month!

It was a painful and eye-opening few days. And for those who ‘got it’, it was an opportunity to respond to unimaginable suffering in Christ’s name. It was also a way to place a target for spiritual persecution squarely on their own backs, as was mentioned by Stephanie Freed of Rapha House, and as experienced by Pastor Anderson and his wife during the book’s writing.
The title of the book, was taken from a passage in Psalm 74:20 in the Old King James Version:

“Have respect unto the covenant: for the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty." That reveals the crude reality! The surrounding two verses share what must be the Christian response! “O deliver not the soul of thy turtledove unto the multitude of the wicked: forget not the congregation of thy poor for ever. “O let not the oppressed return ashamed: let the poor and needy praise thy name.” (Psalm 74:19, 21)

It was a different kind of conference this year. It was not that we learned so much more about the horror of a literal hell for people outside of Christ. We pretty much knew that – that's why we have our missionary program. But it was rather a true wakeup call concerning the daily ‘hell on earth’ many now face, not to mention the grim possibly of them later facing a literal and eternal hell.

Yet with that all said, our time together was in some ways typical. We were once again reminded that the only real solution, whether rescuing the suffering on earth, or reaching lost souls for eternity, has not changed. It all begins and ends with Christ’s love on the cross and is aided and furthered when those who know Him care, pray, and give of themselves for His great glory!

Bill Breckenridge

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Election’s Over. Now What?

The 2008 election is over, and a massive realignment of presidential priorities is coming. Obama supporters are exuberant while McCain enthusiasts are predictably less enthusiastic.

Harsh Obama critics need to apply the rules of gracious loss and basic sportsmanship. Bitterness or even hatred toward Obama is unbefitting any Christian. Similarly, racist attitudes are unacceptable. Barack Obama’s election defuses persistent accusations of overt racism in the U.S. The Jeremiah Wrights who damned America for its lack of opportunity for minorities are thereby silenced along with other accusations of racism by black Americans and foreign critics.

Black people may take pride in Obama’s ascendancy, which exemplifies an equality of opportunity so long sought. If a young black man, burdened with an absent father and separation from his mother and her premature death can rise from those bruises to run a nearly two-year campaign and emerge victorious in the presidential race, he is a man of huge accomplishment and enormous fortitude.

While it is true that many blacks voted on racial grounds and not a few whites cast sympathy votes or even voted out of guilt, the sovereignty of God in affirming our democratic choice is a comforting factor. Further, the Bible says, "Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15). We can celebrate Obama’s victory together with his supporters even while being saddened with others over some of the policies with which we disagree.

But the responsibility of Christians for political praying remains constant. Prior to the election, I discharged some of my civic and Christian responsibilities by presenting "America and Christian Responsibility" numerous times. It emphasizes the importance of voting in a presidential election. Without endorsing anyone, I outlined the issues at stake and urged people everywhere to vote. (This commentary may still be found on our website.)

When the voting was over, someone suggested that I do a program on our political responsibilities after the election. That’s a good idea since the spiritual responsibilities of believing Christians do not change with new administrations.

I’ll concentrate on one issue: prayer. The people for whom we pray may change, and new personnel and issues may arise, but the biblical commands for prayer are permanent. This includes winners and losers.

I Timothy 2:1-3 spells this out. "Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence."
Here are some specific areas for prayer:

Pray for the President-elect. Barack Obama comes to the presidency at a difficult and crucial time. The economic crisis is way beyond anyone’s natural ability to solve, and international relationships are complicated. Obama is reported to be considering using Presidential Executive Orders to immediately reverse several Bush policies including issues of stem cell research and oil drilling. Pray for his wisdom to be from God.

Pray for his early legislative direction. It is reported that a strong liberal trend in Congress would encourage the re-imposing of the Fairness Doctrine, which would chill conservative and religious broadcasting.

Pray for his advisors. Pray that he surrounds himself with some wise and spiritual people to give him proper insight.

Pray for his church selection and spiritual guidance. Obama resigned Jeremiah Wright’s church and will hopefully be looking for a new church in Washington, DC. Pray that he will receive sound spiritual guidance. Pray for his salvation if he is only a nominal Christian.

Pray for his safety. There are racist crazies who want to assassinate Obama. Such an event would bring commotion and conflict of enormous proportions.

Pray for his family. Pray for Michelle and for her spiritual life and safety as well. Pray for the family’s adjustment as they prepare to move to Washington as this can be very stressful for young children.

Pray for races still undecided or requiring a runoff. The exact balance of political power at this time is still unknown. Pray for ballots to be correctly counted and any fraud to be detected.

Pray for those who lost. The agony and personal stress of losing a national election is beyond words. Losers in the presidential, congressional and senate races are still people of great authority and influence and need our prayers. They are also policy makers and give important interviews, and some will be running again in the future.

If you prayed before the election, pray even harder now. As Paul put it in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."

Dave Virkler

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Day After. What's Next?

What if 'your guy' did not win the job on Tuesday? What if you still believe that the best man for the job failed to get the job? And what if the job done by the new President makes matters worse for a battered and divided nation come January?

Rather than commenting with some personal opinion, or an educated guess, perhaps the best response is to let God do the talking since He never guesses and His opinion is pure truth and all that ultimately matters. This is a time to rely upon Biblical promises and principles and actually leave the entire matter in God’s capable hands. There are many verses of inspiration and instruction would be more than applicable and most appropriate. But there are six passages in particular, two from the Old Testament and four from the New, that should do the job - if understood clearly and trusted in wholeheartedly.

There are those verses which deal with God's hand in His sovereign purpose.

Daniel 2:21
"Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, For wisdom and might are His. And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise And knowledge to those who have understanding.”

Daniel 4:17
“This decision is by the decree of the watchers, And the sentence by the word of the holy ones, In order that the living may know That the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, Gives it to whomever He will, And sets over it the lowest of men."

Romans 13:3,5
"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." "Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake."

Ephesians 1:11
“In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will.”

Then there those verses which speak to God's supernatural peace in His people.

Proverbs 3:5-6
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.”

Philippians 4:6-7
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

Over the last year or so Christian Americans have been inundated with shifting polls, complex programs and staggering promises. But now they must deal with real problems and practical solutions as does President-elect Obama. This is the time, regardless of whether or not he was 'your guy', for godly people to place their confidence and hope in a loving Creator. It is time to pray for His protection for the nation. And it is time to offer fervent prayer for all who were voted into positions of authority - a divine directive for the purpose of possessing the ability to live a life of unhindered Christian service and for the freedom to share God's redemptive plan!

"Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority , that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

Bill Breckenridge

Monday, November 3, 2008

It’s Time

It’s time. Time to finally consider the candidates. Time to vote in a historic presidential election of "firsts"—the first black presidential candidate nominated by a major party and the first female vice presidential candidate of the Republican Party. It’s also the first in a long time that a candidate has basically run against his own party’s incumbent president and that moral issues have been overshadowed by one solitary economic preoccupation.

It’s time to vote on tickets of widely diverse views. Consider the issues.

Economic: Do we vote to raise taxes on the wealthy to give money to the less wealthy in order to expand the economy or do we vote to expand the economy by letting major investment money stay with its earners. It’s time to vote!

National Security: Do we vote to talk to our nation’s enemies to improve our global reputation or do we vote to maintain a hard line whether others like us or not? It’s time to vote!

Court Appointees: Do we vote to nominate to the Supreme Court those who view the Constitution as a malleable document or do we vote to nominate strict constructionists? It’s time to vote! (It is estimated that a President will appoint approximately 2,500 people to various offices.)

Social Issues: Do we vote for continued abortions, same-sex marriage and expanded homosexual rights or do we vote for a pro-life viewpoint and traditional definitions of family and marriage? It’s time to vote!

Israel: Do we vote for an unproven support for Israel or do we vote for a long-lived, consistent support for our most reliable ally in the Middle East? It’s time to vote!

Broadcast Freedom: Do we vote for an imposition of the Fairness Doctrine, which would dampen freedom to broadcast on moral issues, or do we vote for continued freedom of speech in the broadcast media? It is time to vote!

Do we vote for youth, oratory and charisma matched with elaborate campaign promises to bring change or do we vote for experience, age and a long-lived track record with elaborate campaign promises to bring desired change? It’s time to vote!

Do we stay at home because we don’t like either ticket or do we exercise our God-given, Scripture command to render to Caesar his due (Luke 20:25)? It’s time to vote, and I hope we all do vote!

In the U.S., "Caesar" is the Constitution, which places ultimate responsibility for American governance squarely with the voters. After prayer for our leaders and those in positions of influence, as I Timothy 2:2 enjoins, and after carefully examining the candidates’ positions, it is time to vote!

As of this morning, many voters still list themselves as undecided. The election outcome evidently rests with these who have a few hours to decide to go one direction or the other. Since I Timothy 2:1 & 2 directs me to pray for all men everywhere as well as those in authority, I’ll be praying for you, a special group who holds the election in your hands, that you will see the issues clearly and vote your intelligent consciences. Believers’ consciences will be aided by the Holy Spirit who teaches us all things (John 14:26) and who gives wisdom from above, not just from mortal sources (James 1:5, 3:15-17).

If everyone who cares and who knows that elections really matter votes, I will live with the results whatever they are. And I will be praying for the new president, vice president, senators and congressmen whoever they may be.

David Virkler