Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Honoring Christ in the New Year

Believers do it religiously. School kids do it unconsciously. Bankers do it commercially. Even atheists do it inadvertently. Some of them do it every day. The President of the United States does it over 100 times each year. The signers of the U.S. Constitution did it in 1787. Historians especially do it. Celebrants in Times Square do it on New Year’s Eve with great enthusiasm. Everyone does it ceremonially once a year. Many have no idea that they are doing it.

They all honor Jesus Christ when speaking, writing or even acknowledging the year. When the calendar is flipped to a new year, it focuses the fact that everyone is doing it; we all are honoring the Lord Jesus Christ, and there’s no escaping it.

Beginning tomorrow, January 1, the technical year will be AD 2009. AD stands for “anno domini”—“in the year of our Lord.” “Our Lord” is Jesus Christ. In fact, a Wikipedia article notes, “More fully, years may also be specified as Anno Domini Nostri Jesu Christi (‘In the year of our Lord Jesus Christ’).” The calendar dating system of the world is synchronized to His lowly birth by the virgin mother in a cow stall in Bethlehem about 2009 years ago.

It is even constitutional, despite what detractors say about no mention of religion in that U.S. founding document. At the bottom of the original, it says, “Done in convention by the unanimous consent of the states present the seventeenth day of September in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and eighty seven…. In witness thereof we have hereunto subscribed our names.” Underneath, 39 delegates from twelve states signed the document.

At last count, President George Bush had issued 115 presidential proclamations. Each one lists the date as being “in the year of our Lord….”

There are several calendar systems in use around the world, but only one unifies the globe in its computers, its economy and its correspondence. We call it the Christian calendar, and so it is. In contrast with all other calendars, this Christian calendar has a mid-point. That is, while all others begin with some notable event and stream forward endlessly, our Christian calendar counts descending years to Christ’s birth and ascending years from it: 4 BC, 3 BC, 2 BC, 1 BC, AD 1, AD 2, AD 3, AD 4, etc.

The history of this absorbing phenomenon is a fascinating study. As far as can be determined, “AD” was in widespread use by the 9th century. It was not until the late 15th century that “BC” (“before Christ”) was in widespread usage. So, after many centuries, the influence of Christ was increasing dramatically.

Today, two major calendar types are used—those with a starting point, such as the creation calendar widely used by the Jews, and one with a mid-point, or the Christian calendar. Ultimately, all calendar systems defer to our Christian dating system, which everyone uses on school papers, checks, legal documents and computers, with Christ’s birth date in each one.

Attempts have been made to shift to other calendars, one being the Jewish calendar, which is a creation calendar, but even prestigious publications such as the weekly Jerusalem Post carry both dates, for example, “December 2008 and Kislev 5769”. Incidentally, objectors sometimes do an end run around the obvious by designating years as BCE and CE, meaning “Before the Common Era” and “Common Era.” However, the “Common Era” is the Christian era. The Christian era by any other name is still the Christian era, and 2009 used by anyone still cries out another “year of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The Apostle Paul had it right when he wrote, “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” (Philippians 2:9-11).

We wish all our friends a most wonderful and happy New Year of AD 2009—another year of our Lord Jesus Christ. He’s the Lord of the Sabbath (Luke 6:4), the beginning and the ending (Revelation 1:8), and our times are in His hands (Psalm 31:15).

Dave Virkler

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Oldest American Dies

He was just about to enter his 9th year of the 21st century, but it was not meant to be.

On Saturday, George Francis died at age 112. He had been, until congestive heart failure took his life, the oldest living American. His son, just a spry 81 years of age, stated, "He lived four years in the 19th century, 100 years in the 20th century, and 8 years in the 21st century. We call him the man of three centuries.”

Francis was born June 6, 1896, in New Orleans. He tried to enlist in the U.S. Army during World War I but was turned down because of his stature – never weighing in at more than 100 pounds. He quit school after the sixth grade, later became an amateur boxer, and also worked as a chauffeur, an auto mechanic and a barber. He lived a long life and saw more than most ever will.

Some would say that George Francis died of heart disease. Others would say simply that he breathed his last due to ravages of old age. Either is appropriate, but both are incomplete. George lived a long time by any standards, but his physical death originated from a spiritual demise set into motion long before he drew his first of many breaths.

At the very outset of human history, God gave the first man and woman a clear choice - one that would unfortunately see them choose incorrectly. Their horrendous selection would set mankind on a disastrous road, even though God did His best to lay the dire consequences of a wrong action before them.

Genesis 2:15-17 describes the scene. “Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "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." And die they did – both physically and, more importantly, spiritually. Their bodies began a slow decay while their once close relationship with their Creator perished. And ever since, all eventually face the unthinkable results of that fateful choice in the garden. Pain may be eased and days lengthened through technology, but death’s dark day will still arrive, as will a day of reckoning according to Hebrews 9:27.

But spiritual death can be eradicated and permanently – something foretold back in that same garden where the Serpent’s subtle lies duped earth’s first couple. In Genesis 3 God spoke of the future victory over His enemy’s dreadful grip of eternal death over humanity. Verse 15 reads, “And I will put enmity, between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel." The literal fulfillment of that great promise would come many centuries later through God’s Son and His sacrificial death on the cross and subsequent resurrection from the dead. Eternal death would meet its match in a coming Savior, although it would require making the right choice of accepting Christ’s free gift of salvation.

Then the lasting results of rejecting or accepting that great and all-important choice are made clear in 1 John 5:11-13. “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.”

The concept of physical pain and ensuing death is not for any a pleasant thought. But the Christian can count on God’s supernatural sustaining grace throughout the process. And even more amazing is the solid promise of being able to face death with peace and victory, knowing of a future so glorious as to never be really understood until that inconceivable moment arrives. Paul put it this way in 1 Corinthians 15:54-57:

“So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." "O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?" The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Many alive now will not live to see their next birthday or be around long enough to see the new year of 2009 come to an end. But there is no reason for any to not live eternally in the presence of God according to Jesus' own words in John 6:58. "This is the bread which came down from heaven — not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever ."

Bill Breckenridge

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Shining Light of Compassion

You may have missed it in all the pressing political and economic issues, but in late November, President & Mrs. Bush sent out their last White House Christmas card. A long-standing tradition, every annual holiday card they have mailed for these eight years has featured a special painting of a White House scene in a tasteful blend of art, Christmas greeting and a Scripture text. The 2008 cover featured a stunning painting of the Washington Monument with the smaller Jefferson Memorial in the distance as viewed from the Truman Balcony at the Executive Mansion. Artist T. Allen Lawson produced the 22" x 20" oil on linen masterpiece.

The 2008 presidential card includes Matthew 5:16 from the King James Version: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven." This may seem a strange selection since dismal approval ratings for President Bush reflect the notion that he did little right during his tenure in office. However, a recent story in The Washington Times may improve the President’s image.

The paper reports that the President personally wrote to each of the more than 4,000 families who lost a loved one in Afghanistan and Iraq. Additionally, he met with more than 500 of those families and with more than 950 wounded veterans. The President never advertised these acts of compassion, but, as he made his final presidential visit, media reporters discovered it and made it newsworthy.

Commenting on the discovery, Bush said that he considers himself as "comforter in chief" who tries to help "as best I humanly can a loved one who is in anguish." He also declared, "I lean on the Almighty and Laura…." Mrs. Bush has often accompanied her husband on these many visits.

How can we reconcile the intended privacy of these acts of comfort with the text in the card that carries Christ’s command for public testimony? A subsequent verse in Matthew says, "But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing…" (Matt. 6:3). Or, put a clearer way, "Don’t advertise your good works."

The Bush’s Christmas verse speaks of letting your light shine. Light is a quality or attitude, not necessarily an activity. And Matt. 6:4 reveals the relationship between private attitude and public reward: "…that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly."

The Bush’s shining light of compassion does not show up in the approval polls, but somehow The Washington Times has been used by God to reward them openly.

Thank you, President & Mrs. Bush, for sharing such a special verse in the sunset of your residence in the White House. And thanks, Washington Times, for covering a positive story and bringing these moving evidences of their compassion to our attention.

Dave Virkler

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Cost of Christmas

Shoppers across the U.S. said they were planning to spend an average of $431 for gifts this holiday season, down from $859 last year according to the 23rd annual Survey on Holiday Spending from the American Research Group, Inc. The overall average of planned spending is down almost 50% from 2007, and it is the lowest level of planned spending recorded by the American Research Group since 1991.

However, the cost of the items in “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” a comical benchmark for analysts, reportedly was up to about $ 86,900, soaring from years before.

To cut back on Christmas spending, proposed ideas include wrapping gifts in newspaper, giving IOU gifts (a note promising to do something nice for someone), handmade cards, custom baked goods or customized calendars highlighting important dates. Some suggested cost-cutting measures also included using LED lights, which use less electricity, and turning off displays during all daylight hours. Hand-made tree ornaments are also a possibility, even using family photos hung on the tree or perhaps draping old-fashioned inexpensive garlands of popcorn. Christmas tree economies were also suggested such as buying only live trees, which can be planted later, or purchasing artificial trees that could be reused for many years.

Whatever the expense of Christmas, many shoppers will be paying off Christmas debts for a long time. Many of these incurred debts have little or nothing to do with the real concept of the first Christmas, which was kneeling and giving gifts to the newborn King Jesus. I wonder how many extra gifts are given to churches, mission organizations or missionaries as a reflection of the eastern wise men who knelt and presented their gold, frankincense and myrrh?

The first Christmas participants all paid dearly, if not in actual money, then in other sacrificial ways. Consider a few of these …

Zecharias and Elizabeth – Zecharias, whose son, John the Baptist, would later publicly announce Christ as Messiah, was struck dumb and deaf for his temporary unbelief (Luke 1:20) that his wife would bear a child. Both he and Elizabeth had to bid farewell to their boy early so he could be alone with God in the desert (Luke 1:80). John himself was beheaded by adulterous Herod for his denunciation of Herod’s sins (Mark 6:14–29).

Mary and Joseph – Mary faced searing criticism as a possible fornicator being pregnant by an unidentified father before she and Joseph lived together as husband and wife (Luke 1:34). Mary traveled twice to southern Israel, first to see Elizabeth and then to Bethlehem in the final stages of pregnancy (Luke 1:39; 2:1-4). The journeys were a total of possibly 210 miles. Simeon’s cryptic forecast of Mary’s broken heart must have cost her peace and calm (Luke 2:34).

Joseph was concerned over an unfaithful fiancée (Matt. 1:19). He gave up sex with his new wife until Christ was born (Matt. 1:25).

Both traveled to Bethlehem some 70 miles from home with the baby's birth imminent. As homeless travelers, they sought a suitable birthplace but bedded down in a cow stall. Later, the young family had to flee at night from Bethlehem, where they had established a home, to Egypt (a trip of about 50 plus miles) until Herod died (Matt. 2:14, 15). Then they had to divert to avoid their Bethlehem home to travel far north back to Nazareth where a quizzical welcome no doubt awaited them.

Demonic and angelic tension must have been felt by the holy family. Revelation 12:4 says that Satan stood before the woman to devour the child at birth. Rough math indicates that there are at least 150 million supernatural created spirit beings if we add at least 100 million unfallen angels (Rev. 5:11) and 50 million who fell with Satan (Rev. 12:4). Satan’s minions were likely marshaled against the multitude of heavenly hosts revealed to the shepherds of Luke 2.

The Shepherds – They were first terrified, and then they sacrificed to travel from their flocks to an obscure stable. I imagine lots of puzzled stares met them when they inquired about an obscure newborn lying in a common feeding trough.

The Wise Men – They paid the price of a two-year trek across hostile areas to worship Christ and offer their valuable gifts (Matt. 1:1–12).

Jesus Christ – Christ Himself experienced the greatest cost. The great Creator (John 1:3, Col. 1:16) voluntarily laid aside the full preferences of His glory to become a human and die for us (Phil. 2:5-8). Christ’s homesickness for heaven is seen in John 17:5. He knew He would not return home before being savagely scarred by our sins. God, the Father, also paid dearly to yield His only begotten Son. As someone once said regarding his human son, “I could give myself, but I could not give my son!”

Christmas was so very costly. Salvation is free, but it is never cheap. The supreme price matches the superb gift in Romans 8:32. “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”

John 3:16 & 17 eternally stand as the awesome Christmas benchmark of divine cost and sovereign bestowal: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”

Each person who paid so dearly is uniquely honored around the world, especially at Christmas. Christian sacrifice should always be counted as an investment, not a loss. When Peter asked about any gain there might be since he and the other disciples had left all to follow Christ, the Lord said that the eternal return would be one hundred fold, which is 10,000% and much more in eternity (Mark 10:30).

Hymnwriter Esther Kerr Rusthoi put it so well:

It will be worth it all
When we see Jesus,
Life’s trails will seem so small
When we see Christ;
One glimpse of His dear face,
All sorrow will erase,
So bravely run the race,
Till we see Christ.

Dave Virkler

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Taking Time to Reflect

Yesterday morning was the last Sunday before Christmas in this year of 2008. Despite threatening weather, we went ahead with out annual Christmas program that same night. And the Lord blessed the effort with a good attendance and hopefully blessed those who braved the elements to attend.

But during the morning message we were told a story about a Christmas spectacular from years ago. The church was apparently a majestic scene with over 10,000 lights and additional decorations as well. It was a sight to behold!

When the celebration was over, all made their ways home. But upon arriving home, it dawned on the pastor that he had left a gift at the church and had to return. Upon entering the building he noticed light coming from what should have been a now darkened auditorium. Upon entering the large room he noticed the youth pastor of the church just sitting near the front all alone and starring at the amazing scene. The senior pastor walked quietly down the aisle, touched his associate's shoulder, and asked, “Phil, what are you still doing here?” The answer was unexpected. “I’m just soaking it all in for a few more minutes.”

As the celebration of the Incarnation comes, it so easy to get bogged down in all of the nice external stuff that is incorporated into the season. But for the Christian, the only one who can really fathom the reality of eternal God becoming human flesh and dwelling with us, there should be time set aside in private to just ‘soak it all in’.

There should be a many moments of reflecting on the ultimate Gift – the one that cost Christ everything in sacrifice and that requires us to only trust Him fully and be thankful eternally!

Don’t let the celebration of God’s greatest Gift to man come and go without giving Him thanks by ‘soaking it all in’.

Have a blessed Christmas!

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Super Rower Falls Short

He rowed for 10 full months and covered over 9,500 nautical miles. But in the end he fell agonizingly short.

In February, Italian Alex Bellini began from Peru with the goal being to eventually arrive in Australia. But just 65 miles short of his destination, the 30-year old met up with strong winds and became too physically wasted to row his 25’ vessel any farther - despite being almost in literal site of the finish. The battered sailor told the press that he was feeling fine, all things considered, but was totally exhausted. Bellini sited two reasons for the dangerous and rugged journey. The first was to cross the Pacific alone. Secondly, it was to test his personal limits and discover something about himself.

Since most people never even consider attempting something as exhilarating or dangerous as Alex Bellini, they will never know the headiness of victory or utter disappointment of falling short of such a lofty personal goal. But there is another finish line - a spiritual and universal one. Crossing it victoriously brings an unparalleled prize. But failure means an unimaginable and frightening result. It is a challenge to which every man and woman needs to be fully aware and take serious aim at. Failure to do so will bring consequences not even worthy to be compared with losing at any earthly pursuit.

In Romans chapter 3, the Apostle Paul revealed that every man’s relationship with his or her Creator was a doomed voyage from the start. Verse 23 reads, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” To put it bluntly man is born physically alive but spiritually dead. (Ephesians 2:1-2) All enter into life in a state of utter spiritual defeat and worthy of divine judgment. The term ‘fall short’ as seen in Romans 3 literally means ‘to miss the mark’. Man in his natural unregenerate state can never know God, please God, or be at peace with Him on any level. He is born dead.

Personal human achievements, no matter how impressive, will not carry any weight when the time arrives for all to give an account to their maker. On that sobering day all lame and desperate excuses for not accepting a relationship with Jesus Christ will instantly dissolve, being quickly followed by the mind-boggling realization of Hebrews 10:31. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

But with all of that said, this unimaginable scenario need never occur. The same apostle who wrote that all have fallen short and missed the mark of God’s standards also penned the words in Romans 5:1-2. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” There is hope and there is a solution! It is the very same one as Paul and Silas offered to the desperate and suicidal jailer in Acts 16:31. “So they said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved…”

Alex Bellini gave a heroic effort but still missed his goal. But Alex still has options. He can rest and be content with his great attempt. He can become bitter about his failure and do nothing. Or he can even try for the victory again and work harder, should that be his desire. But no such options exist when relating to the God of the Bible. When all is said and done, and life comes to a halt, each of us will have either missed God’s mark fully through our own human efforts or will have hit the target squarely through the person and work of Christ!

In the final analysis, there will be no spiritual middle ground, no compromise, no acceptance of worthy performances, and no second chances. Reconciliation between God and man will be based solely on what John described in 1 John 5:12. “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” Could that have been made any clearer?

When thinking of the heavenly finish line, unbelievers need to consider Jesus’ own words in Matthew16:26-27. “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” And believers need to hone in on the words of Paul. “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain.” (1 Corinthians 9:24)

Bill Breckenridge

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sarah Palin's Home Church Torched

Members of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's church did not meet in their usual location this past Sunday. The congregation instead gathered in a nearby middle school after their building suffered a fire which caused an estimated million dollars in damage. The blaze was set at the main entrance Friday night and is being investigated as arson. The governor stopped by Saturday and reportedly told an assistant pastor that she was sorry if the fire was connected to the "undeserved negative attention" the church has received since she became the vice presidential candidate.

John Doak, associate pastor at Wasilla Bible Church, stated that the church’s people realized that the church is not the building but is the body of Christ. He said, "The church is still there. We are the church."

Pastor Doak is exactly right. The Bible does speak repeatedly of the church in terms of physical locations in the New Testament. (1 Thessalonians 1:1, 1 Corinthians 1:2-3) But the primary, and far more important, designation has to do with the people who gather together in any location.

The term church comes from the Greek word ‘ekklesia’ and means a calling out. In other words, the church of Jesus Christ is made up of all that have been called out of the world and into God’s family through personal faith. These are the redeemed of God. They alone possess a unique link and relationship to the God who created them and subsequently saved them.

To best understand the church and its relationship to Christ requires a general understanding of the book of Ephesians. It is there that the Apostle Paul relates the profound connection of Christ to His special people. This connection is also noted in Colossians 1:24 where Paul writes, “I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church.” Then in 1 Peter 2:9, a spiritual description of those who comprise the church is outlined. “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

Physical church buildings have been a target of God’s adversary since such places existed. So this latest attack in Alaska was not the first, nor will it be the last. The reason is simple. It is simply a matter of sin and spiritual warfare – an ongoing battle that will rage until Christ’s victorious return.

The first Christmas was all about the future building of Christ’s church on earth. This miraculous reality would become a reality not long after that first Easter morning when the entrance of the Holy Spirit ushered the new and glorious church age (Acts 2:1-4) And while structures continue to come and go, the spiritual entity that is the church will remain intact, come what may.

In Matthew 16, Jesus was questioning His disciples as to His true identity. After their relating back some of the opinions of what outsiders thought, the Lord directed the inquiry their way in verse 15. "But who do you say that I am?" It was at that juncture that Peter stepped forward and responded correctly stating, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." His words, in turn, led to one of the greatest of declarations concerning the durability of the church and its ability to thrive and survive all future persecution.

“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." (Mathew 16: 17-18)

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmas Aversion

Anti-Christmas activities have reached a new low in the U.S. and Netherlands. We would expect it from the Netherlands, where anything goes, but not the U.S.

In Amsterdam, a Dutch gay group is planning a “Pink Christmas” which, for the first time, will feature a live manger scene with two Josephs and two Marys. This perverse manger scene is to tout the idea that expands choices for homosexual men and women and is a “wink” at heterosexual assumptions. This is really nothing irregular since Holland legalized gay marriage in 2001. Predictably, a Christian organization reacted saying, “By putting Mary and Joseph down as homosexuals, a cracked human fantasy is being tacked on to history from the Bible,” and urged the city to reject it.

When basic God-ordained marriage between one man and one woman is broadened to include formations of whatever genders and numbers, the general order of society and the health of such a country are severely jeopardized. Such degradation may be freedom’s leading edge of social progress, but it’s the trailing edge of society in decline.

Paul probed the fall in Romans chapter 1: “…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 … Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves … For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality … (Romans 1:21, 22, 24, 26-29a – emphasis mine)

In the Greek, “fools” in this text is “moraino” from which we get the term “moron.” And speaking of fools, the Psalmist said twice, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, They have done abominable works, There is none who does good.” (Psalm 14:1; 53:1)

In King David’s day, atheists hid their unbelief in their hearts, but in the Washington State Capitol building, they have publicly proclaimed it in a Christmas display area. Atheists from the Freedom From Religion Foundation obtained permission to place an anti-religion message as a part of the holiday displays. The signboard reads: “There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens our hearts and enslaves our minds.” Incredible!

Modest atheists would admit that there may be some kind of God somewhere in the universe. Since die-hard atheists seem to assert there is no God at all, that would indicate they themselves are somehow omnipresent (everywhere present in the universe at once) in order to know that. This would qualify them as God and make their atheism absurd. The ultimate fall of Eve in Eden was to buy into Satan’s lie as Gen. 3:4-5 says. “Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’” Ordinary men in unbelief have inevitably sought “god-likeness.”

Someone has noted that a true atheist impact could be considerable if all atheists would volunteer to work on Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Further, they might stop dating their checks and legal papers with 2008, which marks the year since the birth of Jesus. They should seek legislation to rename scores of cities and towns around the country such as Nazareth and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, two biblical towns figuring in the birth story of Christ. Los Angeles would have to be renamed since it means “city of angels.” Corpus Christi, “the body of Christ,” also has to go.

A Christmas defender of the manger scene placed near the atheists’ pathetic statement of ignorance in the Washington State capitol said, “I think the manger scene speaks for itself.” It has spoken out for centuries, and the Babe of Bethlehem, who was the Christ of Calvary, became the Lord of glory and is personal Savior who lives in the hearts of millions around the world.

Phillips Brooks, a Philadelphia minister, visited ancient Bethlehem on Christmas Eve in 1865 and wrote a famous Christmas carol in 1868 after returning home. Its truth stands despite atheists’ ignorance:

O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie;
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by:
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.

The manger still speaks for itself.

Dave Virkler

The World's Top Killer

It is sometimes called simply the “Big C”, and according to the World health Organization (WHO), cancer will become the world’s top killer, replacing heart disease by the year 2010. In addition, it is estimated that global cancer cases will actually double by 2030. WHO reports some 12 million diagnosed cases this year, along with 7 million cancer-related deaths.

A primary reason for the dramatic increase is thought to be the rising tobacco use in developing countries, especially in countries like China and India where 40 percent of the world's smokers now live. Should the trend continue, experts feel that new cancer cases would balloon to 27 million annually over the next two decades or so. Dr. Douglas Blayney of the American Society of Clinical Oncology stated, "Few are aware that cancer already kills more people in poor countries than HIV, malaria and tuberculosis combined. And if current smoking trends continue, the problem will get significantly worse."

One of the great undeniable facts of life is that it eventually leads to death. With all of the modern breakthroughs in medical technology, life’s duration has been extended, but death has not yet been defeated – at least in the physical realm. All will die, with the exception of those who are alive when Christ returns. (1 Thessalonians 4:17)

The process of dying understandably brings anxiety. But even so, Scripture reveals how godly people are given something unique to deal with the pain that occurs in life and often accompanies their death. The Apostle Paul wrote how life’s physical difficulties are often not eliminated by God, but rather designed or allowed for His glory and purpose.

Paul relates his own predicament and God’s response in 2 Corinthians 12. In verse 7-9 he writes, ”And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

Again, physical death, in one form or another, will force itself equally upon mankind until the moment Jesus Christ officially defeats it forever. (1 Corinthians 15:26) But those who know Him will recognize their Savior’s awesome power over the grave and how that pertains to their eternal future. And they will possess a supernatural confidence in knowing of the victory promised them in 1 Corinthians 15.

“Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed — in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." "O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?" (1 Corinthians 15:51-55)

Death will come to all but need not defeat any!

Bill Breckenridge

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Modern Day Pirates

This time it was personal – at least for the vacationing civilians who were pursued and fired upon by pirates at sea. The latest attack was on a 600-foot long American ship, the M/S Nautica, and took place in the dangerous waters between Yemen and Somalia. Fortunately, the quick-thinking captain increased his ship's speed leaving 4 the terrorist speedboats behind in his massive wake.

This year alone there have been nearly 100 attacks on vessels off the Somali coast. Of those, 40 have been hijacked and 13 remain in the hands of pirates. One of the captured ships, a Saudi supertanker, was filled with $100 millions of gallons worth of crude oil along with a crew of 250 who are still being held hostage. And it goes without saying that the world today is a dangerous place and getting more so with each passing day.

Despite the serious damage sometimes inflicted on unsuspecting and innocent people, the ability of evil-doers is limited to the physical realm – as painful as that can be. The more serious matter, by far is, is described by Peter in his first New Testament letter. In verse 8 of chapter 5 he warns, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” While Satan certainly prods and promotes those who would terrorize their fellow men, it is his legacy of spiritual harm that causes the worst type of damage – the kind that causing dire eternal consequences.

Jesus also revealed what kind of damage should be life’s top concern. "And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!" (Luke 12:4-5)

The Lord spoke often about the horrors of a literal hell. But His purpose was to cause the fear of judgement to be transformed into a saving faith, forgiveness of sin, and a heavenly home. This state of heart is arrived at only by trusting fully in His sacrificial death on the crossand life-giving resurrection from the grave. (Romans 5:8-10, 6:5) And once that has occurred, believers can begin to rely upon God’s promises and His unique ability to deliver them from the powers of darkness and to cope with the problems of life - a blessed truth is most fully detailed in Psalm 91, where the Psalmist speaks of God’s marvelous secret place of security.

“He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, "He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in Him I will trust." Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the perilous pestilence. He shall cover you with His feathers,and under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler. You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day, Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday. A thousand may fall at your side,and ten thousand at your right hand; but it shall not come near you. Only with your eyes shall you look,and see the reward of the wicked. Because you have made the LORD, who is my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place.” (Psalm 91:2-9)

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Plaxico’s Plunge

New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress has tumbled from athletic heights to the legal pits. All by himself, without other help or trickery, he has plummeted from sports page heroism to front page shame.

Plaxico discharged his pocketed illegal handgun in a New York nightclub, superficially shooting himself but mortally wounding his career. He broke the law and he violated the rules of the NFL. As a law-abiding player, he could have received $25 million over the next five years. Now, his reputation is shattered, his position on the Super Bowl championship team is likely gone forever, and his fortune commensurately shrunk.

One commentator suggested that Burress’ stupid indiscretion would echo in coaches’ warnings for years: "Don’t be like Plaxico!" We hope that eager young athletes will see that actions do have consequences and life has rules. When broken, the quality of one’s life may be permanently degraded.

Plaxico’s contemporary plunge is reminiscent of an ancient biblical tumble. I speak of King David, who held the high ground but took the low road. Residing in his palace well up the northward elevation of the Jerusalem, he had a natural observatory onto the lower elevations of his subjects’ yards. He went for a walk on the palace rooftop, and his wandering eyes beheld Bathsheba whose soldier husband was off besieging what is present-day Amman, Jordan.

Most know the story: immediate lustful adultery, a troubling illegitimate pregnancy, the summons of husband Uriah from the battlefield, his dreadfully plotted cover-up murder, and the hellish results for a lifetime. Read it all in II Samuel 11.

David remained the legal king, but he lived with moral wounds. Actions have consequences, and whatever a man sows, he reaps according to Galatians 6:7. "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap."

And reap David did. He had blood on his hands and a stabbing conscience. The baby died, his son committed similar serial sins on the rooftop and led a rebellion that deposed King David until the subversive boy died in the civil war.

Thankfully, Psalm 51 is drenched with God’s blood-bought forgiveness, but the David would say, "My sin is ever before me" (vs. 3). And so it probably was in his painful memory and wretched disease that clung to his body as Psalm 38:7 and 41:8 seem to suggest.

Someone once said, "We can live it up for five minutes and not live it down for fifty years." Many go sowing wild oats six days a week and then pray for crop failure on the seventh.

An ounce of prevention is always worth a pound of cure. God’s Word says of His judgments, statutes, commandments and fear, " them your servant is warned, and in keeping them there is great reward" (Psalm 19:11).

In the context of Old Testament people who gave in to extreme stress and temptation, Paul wrote, "Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it" (1 Corinthians 10:11-13).

Good words for then and now.

Dave Virkler

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

What Makes You Happy?

According to a new study out of the University of Maryland, certain activities are associated with having a happy life. Dr John Robinson, a professor of sociology, has now published his findings in the journal Social Indicators Research.

The research itself was based upon the answers from 45, 000 Americans, and relied on 35 years of data collected by University of Chicago’s General Social Survey. The findings used primarily 8-10 activities to discover which ones seemingly made some people ‘happier’ than others. Among the things that led to so-called happiness were socializing, reading newspapers, and going to church. Surprisingly, those who watched a great deal of TV tended to be less happy. Dr. Robinson stated, “I don’t know that turning off the TV will make you more happy, but the data shows that people who spend the most time watching television are least happy in the long run."

It is interesting that the Bible uses the term ‘happy’ quite sparingly. As a matter of fact, the New King James Version lists it only twice in the New Testament - one of which is in Paul’s own description of himself during his defense before King Agrippa. (Acts 26:1-2) In contrast, the NKJV uses the term ‘joy’ over 60 times in the New Testament alone.

Perhaps these contrasting numbers are because, like the study showed, happiness is more a fleeting product of external factors, although church attendance could be counted as a positive internal influence as well. Joy, on the other hand, is something deeper and concrete. It springs from the inside – from the soul. True joy has the capacity to exist, and flourish, even while happiness is fluctuating with life’s circumstantial winds. An unshakable Biblical joy is not just happiness on steroids - but a form of peace and contentment, not really possible or explainable humanly speaking.

Joy is spoken of in the majority of the New Testament books. And a careful examination reveals that lasting inner joy to be primarily a spiritual commodity.Jesus spoke of the gift of His unique joy in John 15:11. "These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.” The ‘these things’ are related in the previous verses and include: answered prayer, peace, comfort, security, and power for fruitful Christian service.

The writer of Acts wrote of Christian joy in Acts 13:52. “And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”

The Apostle Paul used the joy concept repeatedly in his letters to the young churches. To the Roman Christians he wrote, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:13) And to the church at Galatia he said, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

The Bible term joy is derived from a Greek word that speaks to an inner cheerfulness, a sense of being well off, or a calm delight – a commodity sought long and hard by mankind since the very outset.

For those still lacking salvation in Christ, that special peace with God and unique inner joy can never be known without coming to Him. But for all that do, Scripture reveals something special and distinct. Because God’s joy is supernatural, it can actually be the byproduct of dealing with the troubles that tend to drag the mere ‘happiness’ of the unbeliever all over the lot. Simply stated, those outside of God’s family find their momentary outlook on life to be chained to their current circumstances - whether they be good or bad.

And for any doubting the positive potential of a miraculous union of inner joy with outward trails, they need to consider the following Holy Spirit inspired words of the Apostles Peter and James.

“Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.” (1Peter 4:2)

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” (James 1:2-3)

Why settle for some, external, circumstantial, and momentary happiness when there is a permanent inner joy available in Christ? “And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.” (1 John 1:4)

The choice is yours!

Bill Breckenridge

Monday, December 1, 2008

Presidential Pardons

"I beg your pardon," is more than a routine plea for restrained retaliation. It’s the plea of convicted criminals pleading for a last-minute presidential reprieve. In the present moment, it is the "lame duck" prerogative of President Bush.

From the least of crimes to the most wrenching deed, their perpetrators have petitioned the President to exercise his unconditional constitutional right to pardon whomever he will. This typically falls in the final weeks of any year; in Bush’s case, it is in the ebbing weeks of his presidency.

For publicity and seasonal humor, the President usually pardons a Thanksgiving turkey. This is a misnomer because the turkey is guilty of nothing except his own involuntary existence. In order to be pardoned, one has to be guilty of a crime.

In fact, some of the pardon commentary this year is incorrect. One article said it was "forgiving" the perpetrator. Pardon is not technically forgiveness but merely removing the punishment and some lingering consequences of the crime. If I offended you by spilling coffee all over you, for example, I might say, "I beg your pardon." This does not mean that I didn’t do it; it simply means that I am asking you not to hold this against me or retaliate in kind.

Pardon actually permanently affixes guilt. That offenders seek pardon and that they then willingly receive it are twin confessions of guilt. The most pointed modern example was the pardon of Richard Nixon by President Gerald Ford. When President Ford testified before Congress, he stated, "The acceptance of a pardon, according to the legal authorities—and we’ve checked them out very carefully—does indicate that by the acceptance the person who has accepted it, does, in effect, admit guilt."

The U.S. Department of Justice website says, "While a presidential pardon will restore various rights lost as a result of the pardoned offense and should lessen to some extent the stigma arising from a conviction, it will not erase or expunge the record of your conviction. Therefore, even if you are granted a pardon, you must still disclose your conviction on any form where such information is required, although you may also disclose the fact that you received a pardon."

Ultimate forgiveness is available only from God since all sinning offends Him. David had it right when he declared in Psalm 51:4, "Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight—That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge." He added in verse 7, "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow."

Even this is something short of New Testament "justification." The redeemed Christian is not merely pardoned; that would make him a permanent criminal although not suffering the punishment. The believer is a justified saint—legally proclaimed by God as though his sins had never been committed. Hebrews 10:17-18 reads, "…Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more." Romans 5:1 says, "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…"

The chorus of the hymn "One Day!" has it right:

Living–He loved me, dying–He saved me,
Buried–He carried my sins far away.
Rising–He justified, freely forever.
One day He’s coming–O glorious day!

Presidential pardons helpfully refocus biblical justification if we understand the Word of God.

Dave Virkler