Thursday, December 31, 2009

Keep Your Hand on the Throttle

A recent review of an aging church directory gave me an engaging idea for this NewYear’s blog entry. Thumbing through the 1967/68 picture directory of the Brookdale Baptist Church in Bloomfield, NJ, I came across the photo of Mr. & Mrs. Archibald Speer. I realized that before that directory had even been distributed, Mr. Speer was no longer in the church or on the earth. He went to be with his Savior on Nov. 1, 1966, and the circumstances of his passing brought into focus the words of an old Southern Gospel song that saw a substantial revival in recent years in the performances of Lynda Ronstadt in 2005 and other Southern Gospel musicians.

Engineer Archibald Speer was a 45-year veteran of the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad and only weeks away from retirement. On November 1, 1966, he was guiding his passenger train west through Dover, NJ close to the end of his customary run. Unknown to him, two joined, untended but active diesel locomotives inched away from their landing seven miles away to the west on higher elevation in Port Morris.

Slowly, then faster, the 200 tons of switcher engines hurtled down the same track as Speer’s passenger train, reaching speeds of nearly 85 miles per hour. Too late for evasive action, Speer saw death racing toward him. Newspaper reports of the accident quoted a spectator at the clean-up remarking, “He must have gone through the tortures of Hell when he saw the train coming.” The articles said that “Speer, of Clifton, NJ…apparently was killed instantly.”

Reports circulated that Speer, knowing what was about to befall him, was in full control of his train to the bitter end. In an age before computerized systems, his hand was still on the throttle and his eye searching the rail with its raging runaways.

Archibald Speer may have seen mortal hell coming, but he was instantly transported to Heaven. “So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him.” (II Corinthians 5:6-9)

And the believer’s crown awaited him as his soul fled the scene. Revelation 2:10 says, “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer … Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

In the months following this tragedy, which took place only a few miles from our ministry offices in Towaco, NJ, I used this vivid illustration in countless meetings. Erick Webber and I had teamed up as musician and preacher. While Erick strummed an introduction on his twelve string Fender guitar, I told the story of Archibald Speer, recounting how he became the embodiment of an old Gospel song written in the 1890s by Eliza R. Snow and M. E. Abbey. Then, with typical southern style, Erick sang,

Life is like a mountain railroad, with an engineer that’s brave; We must make the run successful, from the cradle to the grave; Watch the curves, the fills, the tunnels; never falter, never quail; Keep your hand upon the throttle, and your eye upon the rail.

You will roll up grades of trial; you will cross the bridge of strife; See that Christ is your Conductor on this lightning train of life; Always mindful of obstruction, do your duty, never fail; Keep your hand upon the throttle, and your eye upon the rail.

You will often find obstructions; look for storms of wind and rain; On a fill, or curve, or trestle, they will almost ditch your train; Put your trust alone in Jesus; never falter, never fail:
Keep your hand upon the throttle, and your eye upon the rail.

As you roll across the trestle, spanning Jordan’s swelling tide, You behold the Union Depot into which your train will glide; There you’ll meet the Superintendent, God the Father, God the Son, With the hearty, joyous, plaudit, “Weary pilgrim, welcome home!”

Blessed Savior, Thou wilt guide us,
Till we reach that blissful shore;
Where the angels wait to join us
In Thy praise forevermore.

Forty-three years ago, Archibald Speer made his last run, but he finished with his hand on the throttle and his eye on the rail. In 2010, we may safely arrive at our human destinations or we may find life’s track bringing a sudden departure. Whatever our lot, we need steady hands and clear vision.

A blessed New Year to you as we travel life’s rails to Glory!

Dave Virkler

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Joy After A Christmas Eve Nightmare

It was the best of times and the worst of times, when the joy of a Christmas Eve birth turned deadly – well, sort of?

They are being called “the miracle mother and baby” after a near horrific incident in a hospital in Colorado Springs. Tracy Hermanstorfer stated, “I got a second chance at life,” and that she did, after she and her newborn were both not breathing just as the delivery was about to take place.

The 33-year old mom had stopped breathing from an apparent cardiac arrest. The medical staff tried to revive her, but nothing worked. A maternal fetal medicine specialist at the hospital said of Tracy, "She had no signs of life. No heartbeat, no blood pressure, she wasn't breathing,"

It was at that crucial moment that doctors told her husband Mike that his wife was likely gone and they were hoping to save the child through an emergency c-section. To the doctor’s shock, when the infant boy was delivered, he too was not breathing. The husband recalls thinking, "I had everything in the world taken from me.”

Immediately he doctors went to work on lifeless little Coltyn as the helpless father held him. But the infant suddenly began to breathe and show other signs of reviving. Meanwhile, the mother’s pulse returned even before she was wheeled out of the room and into surgery. She had showed no heartbeat for nearly four long minutes. But as soon as the child was delivered, her heartbeat miraculously returned. An evaluation was conducted by experts but tests failed to yield anything that could explain the bizarre incident.

Father Mike Hermanstorfer said the Christmas Eve miracle was simply "the hand of God." He stated, “We are both believers. You explain to me how this happened. There is no other explanation."

Some two thousand years ago, there was another “miracle mother and baby". But in this case the miracle extended far beyond the physical. The mother’s name was Mary and Luke 1:35 describes the miracle of the conception of her child. “And the angel answered and said to her, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.' ”

The miracle birth of Mary’s son was that He was not merely a human child with an unusual conception. Jesus was also a divine child. He was not an odd blend of God and man. He was fully both.

His miraculous makeup is described in theological terms as the “Hypostatic Union” - a mystery explained best in Philippians chapter two. Paul writes there in verses 5-8, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but 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.” Scripture teaches that Jesus Christ is the one and only, and fully unique, God-man.

Tracy Hermanstorfer believed that she had received “a second chance at life”. But if she was already a Christian before that most stressful Christmas Eve, she had already taken advantage of a second change by being revived from a life of spiritual death to the miracle that is new life in Jesus Christ. Her greatest miracle was not her own physical survival and that of her child’s. But it was primarily the divine revival of her soul through saving faith – a transaction described in Colossians 1:13-14.

“He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.”

Bill Breckenridge

Astronauts Launch Christmas Mission

A Russian rocket blasted off on Monday from Kazakhstan shuttling an American, a Russian and a Japanese to the International Space Station. When Timothy Creamer, Soichi Noguchi and Oleg Kotov join the two current inhabitants who have been alone on the space station for three weeks, the total crew will be brought to five.

The vessel traveled for about two days before docking with the space station 220 miles above Earth. One of the crew's tasks will be to assist in the delivery of a module, complete with a seven-window cupola for prime Earth gazing.

The space station this week beamed a video Christmas greeting to Earth, and on its website, NASA has created a series of virtual postcards for members of the public to send to the space station with their holiday greetings. Astronaut Creamer has also promised to keep people back on earth up-to-date and send his holiday greetings via his Twitter account. NASA spokesman Rob Navias stated, “This was a spectacular launch, a great Christmas present, and a great way to finish the year."

Most still marvel at the reality that is modern-day space travel and only time will tell how far man will proceed in that realm. And it is equally astounding that man can so easily and effectively communicate to earth even using some of the common technical tools and toys of the day. But this so-called ‘great Christmas present” and the ‘great way to finish the new year’ are but simple reminders of the greatest Christmas gift ever and the ultimate capacity of communications.

Students of the Scriptures know that Jesus Christ created space itself and everything it encompasses. He communicated with mankind, not by sending a message from beyond the stars, but by coming to earth and being born in a stable. And He left to His true followers the single most effective form of communication - the abiity to communicate with the Heavenly Father through the indwelling Holy Spirit of God.

The greatest way to ‘finish the year’, or any year, is not limited to a privileged few space travelers. It is reserved for all who recognize the One who created space and time, and who traveled through both in order to launch the gift of salvation to earth-bound and sin-bound sinners.

NASA may have technology for ‘prime Earth gazing’ and to look deep into outer space. But the unique ability to see and know the God of the universe is the exclusive right of those who have personally communicated by faith with Jesus Christ. The Bible clearly reveals the dual roles of God's Son as both the Creator and the Savior.

"For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” (Colossians 1:16-17)

"For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:10)

As the maker of all, and the Savior of all, He alone remains the all-time greatest gift for all of time and all of eternity!

Bill Breckenridge

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Lord of Time

Christmas represents the time of our Lord while the New Year underscores the Lord of all time. In nearly total sync, calendars for 2009 are discarded, computers and electronic devices automatically reset, and a multitude of people recast their thinking to the New Year’s designation of 2010. All at once, every year, the global New Year focuses on Jesus Christ, the Lord of all time.

Because of His unique divine Lordship, "…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth. And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:10 & 11) Most Bible interpreters assign this to a future time when all mankind, dead or alive, will acknowledge His literal and visible Kingdom rule. But everyone should bow now, and in this New Year’s calendar miracle, they involuntarily do so by instantly changing the year designation.

Every "Happy New Year!" carries a subtle worship of Christ. On New Year’s Eve, much of the world will watch the huge crystal ball in Times Square slide down the enormous pole to be electrically set ablaze with "2010." At that moment, believer and atheist, Christian and pagan, young and old, rich and poor, all universally bow at the Bethlehem manger. Indeed, as someone once said, "The door of history swings on the hinge of the Bethlehem stable."

Secular people, even atheists, will bow on unwilling bended knee each time 2010 is written into a business contract, inscribed on a check or printed on a school paper. Almost no one realizes it nor do secular analysts understand why, but the world’s business is done according to the Christian calendar, counted from the birth of Christ in a lowly cow stall in a tiny obscure village in southern Judea.

There are countless alternate ethnic and historic calendars that could have become the global timekeepers, but somehow the world has been irresistibly drawn to using the Christian calendar, which honors the great bisection of time accomplished by the birth of Christ. No parliament voted it, no monarch imposed it, no army marched to enforce it, and no global body decreed it. Yet, every knee is subtly bowing to the Lord of time, celebrating His birthday every day of every year.

This global designation crystallized only about 200 years ago, meaning that some 1,800 years after His birth, a global influence was growing. Our Jewish friends reject the Messiahship of Christ but tangentially honor Him by using he terms BCE and CE to designate "Before the Common Era," and "Common Era." Both precisely correspond to BC and AD, which meaning "Before Christ" and "the year of our Lord."

2010 AD means "two thousand and ten, the year of our Lord," and "Lord" is not Mohammed, Confucius, Bhudda or even Abraham, but Christ. The founders of the United States of America dated their Articles of Confederation and U.S. Constitution with "In the year of our Lord," and American presidents have concluded their many proclamations with that same stunning line. (In case you are wondering about the Declaration of Independence, it is dated "July 4th, 1776," and refers to God four times.)

Revelation 1:8 & 11; 21:6 and 22:13 all refer to Christ as "Alpha and Omega," which are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. In other words, Jesus is "the beginning and end."

As 2010 dawns, every knee may not be bowing as it should, but every knee is bending as it must. Welcome to the New Year of 2010 AD, another year of our Lord, who is clearly Lord of all time. And the New Year is always happiest when He is not only a historical Lord but our personal Savior.

Dave Virkler

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Nazareth’s Poverty and Heaven’s Riches

Just in time for Christmas, news is out of an amazing archeological find in Nazareth, Israel. A humble structure dating back to the time of Christ was discovered, and the experts say it is the first ever of such a dwelling to be uncovered from that era.

Knowledgeable authorities say it gives them newfound insight into the life and times of Jesus, pointing out that the structure indicates a comparatively poor town where Christ spent his boyhood years. Experts describe Nazareth as “Probably a small hamlet with about 50 houses populated by poor Jews.” Pottery remnants indicate that the first-century occupants were “a simple Jewish family.” Although no one claims that it is the actual home of Joseph and Mary, they point out that the boy Jesus would have likely known of the house and could have visited there.

Although modern Nazareth is a bustling city, even today some of the poorer residents still occupy caves as we saw them some years ago while touring the city. Our guide said that it was entirely possible that the Holy Family lived in a cave when they returned there after the birth of Christ in Bethlehem and the temporary sojourn in Egypt.

In our local paper, the article about the Nazareth house discovery mentions that the Archangel Gabriel broke the news of the virgin birth to Mary in that city. We appreciate any Bible-substantiating news from the secular media but smile at their overall biblical ignorance. Reading Scripture, we know that Michael is the archangel, not Gabriel. In 1 Thessalonians 4:16, it says the return of our Lord will be with the “voice of the Archangel.” Jude 9 identifies him as Michael. Perhaps the article’s author simply repeated the often-spoken error of church tradition that Gabriel blows his horn to signal the world’s end. It is often in public parlance and occasionally finds its way into spiritual songs. Even 1 Thess. 4:16 does not say that Michael blows his horn but only that his voice is heard.

Regardless of the minor error, believers should rejoice that the reports of the current finding in Nazareth support the historicity of Mary, Christ, and His boyhood home. Further, the poor dwelling indicates the truth of 2 Corinthians 8:9. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” Born in a stable, of poor parents, and growing up in a poor town, Christ later spoke of His personal lack of life’s basic comforts. “And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head’" (Matthew 8:20).

Believers are lavished with Heaven’s riches. “The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints…” (Ephesians 1:18). In eternity beyond, Christ is afforded all Heaven’s wealth and we with Him.

“Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, To receive power and riches and wisdom, And strength and honor and glory and blessing!’” (Revelation 5:11-12).

“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-7).

Dave Virkler

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Deeper Darker Reason For The Season

He is known in some circles as “The Lights Murderer” – a title that aptly describes a senseless and dreadful seasonal crime.

In Louisa, Virginia, Timothy Sanner was sentenced last Monday to life plus three years for first-degree murder and felonious use of a firearm. Back in January, the 54-year old Sanner shot his wife with a .22 caliber rifle after she demanded that he leave their Christmas lights up a bit longer. He wanted them down – period! An argument ensued and moments later Dawn Smythers was dead from a gunshot to the head. The defense called it an accident but the jury did not buy it. Now he faces life behind bars – a terrible Christmas-related tragedy!

Some might feel the Sanner incident had little to do with Christmas itself. It was just a terrible and typical case of domestic violence, something all too common in modern American culture. But the reality is, it had everything to do with Christmas. Christmas is, among other things, very much about murder. This may sound odd, but it is theologically undeniable.

Those who fully understand Christmas know that the Child of Bethlehem would become the Christ of the cross. The highly moving Christmas song, “Cradle In The Shadow of A Cross,” is more than just a beautiful and inspiring tune. It is a deeply significant spiritual truth!

Jesus did not come to merely be the perfect role model of a perfect man – though He was. He came to deal with human sin – all sin, including murder! He came to deal with the one who tempted and tricked mankind into sin, judgement, and eternal death. (John 8:44) And He came to do God’s specific will as proclaimed in 1 John 3:8. “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” For that purpose to be fulfilled would require an unfathomable act of sacrifice.

Jesus Christ took on human form according to John 1:14. The verse reads, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” That is what He did at His birth. What He did at His death is revealed in Philippians 2:8. “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.”

The beautiful and uplifting message of that first Christmas is fully intertwined with the deeper and darker message of the cross. Those who fail to see that all-important link may love the season of light, but live in the spiritual shadows. Christ came to bring God’s great light into man’s dark world. (John 1:9, 1 Peter 2:9) And all those who comprehend, and fully accept, this can sense great joy even while living in a sin-cursed world. The basic reason for such a miraculous ability is recorded through Paul's perceptive words in Romans 5:20-21. "But where sin abounded , grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."

Luke 2:11 offers up the primary purpose of the eternal God coming in human flesh. “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (1 Timothy 4:10, 2 Timothy 1:10)

But this wonderful story of hope and deliverance in the Gospels must always be filtered through the 'darker' message taught in the Epistles. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23) It is then, and only then, that the ‘deeper’ meaning of God's profound personal peace can be known. "Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. " (Romans 3:24)

"For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace ." (Isaiah 9:6)

Bill Breckenridge

Treasures of the Snow

Opinions on the huge snowstorm that pummeled the mid-Atlantic and northeast states this past weekend vary immensely. Some folks like it, especially the ski resorts. The day after the storm hit the New York area, talk show host Bob Grant voiced the feeling of others when he declared that he hated snow. "I despise it," he rancorously said.

When a snowstorm happens on a school day, kids tend to love it since it means that school begins late or not at all that day. I can relate to that since we lived in the lake-effect snowbelt in central New York State when I was a kid. A severe Sunday snowstorm often meant an extended weekend while plows cleared the rural roads. My brother, Jim, and I would peer through the frosty windows to observe the enormous plows charge the snowdrifts that went completely across the road in front of our house. If the plow went through on one pass, we went to school. If a second charge was required to plunge through, it was a "maybe." If three were necessary, school was off that day.

As I grew older in years and in the Lord, I came to view snow as a stirring Bible illustration of being washed in the blood of the Lamb. Motorists, business men and necessary travelers may indeed dislike the white stuff, which can delay or eliminate vital functions, but Christian believers may take heart that God is refocusing on recurring redemption themes.

God quizzed Job about his understanding of "the treasures of the snow" (Job 38:22), and they are many. Each snowflake is a different six-sided wonder. Meteorologists in storm-prone areas examine snowflakes’ composition to determine how much snow will fall and how long the storm will last, perhaps a subtle "treasure."

Snow is a special feature of the Holy Land. The snow pack on 9,230-foot high Mount Hermon in northern Israel soaks into the porous rock and is graciously metered out as one of headwaters of the Jordan River. The river satisfies human thirst, irrigates crops and trickles into the Dead Sea, creating a reservoir of billions of dollars in chemicals for global use. This downflow is likely referred to in Jeremiah 18:14: "Will a man leave the snow of Lebanon which cometh from the rock of the field or shall the cold flowing waters that come from another place be forsaken?" The snow pack on Mount Hermon often lasts into early June and affords downhill runs for skiers, a real commercial "treasure."

In Bible times, shepherds in Israel would wash the harvested wool by snow-washing; that is, cleansing the fibers with water melted from fallen snow. A more modern example, for those who live in the north at least, is seeing the corroding salt on automobiles washed away as snow cover slides off one’s car.

Cars are one thing, but souls are another. They are cleansed by God’s spiritual snow pack. In a day of dire spiritual declension, Isaiah prescribed a unique cure. "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." (Is. 1:18) This could be a reference to the snow washing of wool.

Another specific spiritual catharsis is obvious in the pained confession of King David. Guilty of adultery and murder, he cried, "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." (Psalm 51:7)

Even the eventual snowmelt, with its guaranteed subsequent crop-growing potential, is a treasure. Christian witness is treated to the sustaining promise of Isaiah 55:10-11: "For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, And do not return there, But water the earth, And make it bring forth and bud, That it may give seed to the sower And bread to the eater, So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it."

Snow is like the Gospel. It comes from above and refreshes the earth. Its ultimate treasures are enjoyed in the food we eat and the water we drink.

Years ago in the Mexican jungle, I heard a group of Tzaltal Indians singing an old hymn in their native language. When I came home to New Jersey, I checked the words in English.

Blessed be the fountain of blood,
to a world of sinners revealed,
Blessed be the dear son of God,
Only by His stripes we are healed.
Tho’ I’ve wandered far from the fold,
Bringing to my heart pain and woe.
Wash me in the blood of the lamb,
and I shall be whiter than snow.
Whiter than the snow, Whiter than the snow,
Wash me in the blood of the lamb.
And I shall be whiter than snow.

Those Indians had never seen snow, but they had been washed whiter than snow. Without seeing it, they understood the analogy. All who have seen snow should understand it even better.

Dave Virkler

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas TV - What's The Point?

For many Americans, Christmas would not really be Christmas without watching their favorite seasonal shows. For some, these beloved programs actually kick start the holidays more than any other thing.

Over the years, the many classics have entered the nation’s living rooms geared either at youngsters or adults – sometimes both. Often the older generations still adore the versions they grew up with and enjoy watching their childhood favorites over again through they eyes of their own children.

Some of the more recognizable children’s classics would include, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and the now popular Polar Express. And In more recent years it seems that nearly everyone has gotten into the act with titles such as A Dennis the Menace Christmas, Winnie the Pooh Christmas, A Flintstone Christmas, Muppets Christmas, Garfield Christmas, Pinocchio’s Christmas, and even The Little Rascals Christmas. The list is nearly endless and the story lines sometimes a bit bizarre like Merry Madagascar, The Munsters’ Scary Little Christmas, The Dog Who Saved Christmas, and even Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey.

Hallmark has produced numerous programs over the years, some of which are quite well-done and moving. And then, of course, Hollywood has its more modern entries like The Santa Clause 1-3 and Home Alone 1-4. These newer seasonal mainstays now accompany the all-time adult favorites like Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, White Christmas and, of course, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

The current inventory of Christmas specials has become vast and the stories varied. Unfortunately, many of them have very little or nothing to do with the one whose name makes up the very title of the holiday. But with all efforts in producing Christmas-related media, still nothing ever seems to compare to what is arguably the most simple, most effective, and likely the most inexpensive program of all time - A Charlie Brown Christmas. Using simplistic graphics, genius Charles Shultz somehow captured the imagination of young and old alike. He somehow managed to say more in his brief low-budget cartoon than most all other productions combined!

What few know, however, is that the beloved show almost ended before it even started. Schulz wanted his story to have the religious meaning that was central to his own Christmas experience. But others in the TV industry were far less than enthusiastic. Actually, most executives hated the entire concept from day one.

The now idolized broadcast was criticized as being ‘too religious’ because little Linus quoted Luke 2:8-14 - straight from the King James Bible, no less. How dare he? Few of today’s programs would ever have to be concerned over that criteria. It was criticized for featuring contemporary jazz background music in a cartoon. How could that work? And it was blasted for not having a laugh track and for using the voices of real children except for Snoopy. How could all of these factors ever begin to be overcome? But ‘overcome‘ they did and to the surprise of most everyone except maybe one - Charles Shultz himself.

On Thursday, December 9, 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas was seen in more than 15 million homes. That was a hefty viewer number almost a half century ago. It was nearly half of the potential audience of that day and was number two in the ratings, after TV’s hit series, Bonanza. Soon thereafter Shultz’s gem won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Children's Program and a Peabody Award for Excellence in Programming. He had basically fooled the experts and fully inspired their viewers.

The Shultz classic is a simple masterpiece containing a simple message. He was a man of character, talent, and vision. But most of all he was a man of simple faith. As such, he fully recognized the implications and impact of Linus’ great Bible quote when he boldly responded to Charlie Brown’s famous question. “Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?"

For many, it was little Linus who introduced them to the pure and personal reason for the season. It was the adorable cartoon character who perhaps first conveyed the true meaning of the incarnation and of the truth of Emanuel - “God with Us”, through his Luke chapter 2 proclamation.

"Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them,"Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the highest,And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" (Luke 2:8-14)

A Savior, who is Christ the Lord.“

That is exactly and exclusively what Christmas has always been about - and always will be!

Bill Breckenridge

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mass Kidney Swap

Surgical transplants are not normally thought of in terms of a record-setting kidney swap – until now.

Surgeons at Georgetown University and Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C., gave the hope of new life to a group of 13 desperate kidney recipients after performing the twenty-six operations required to complete the task. The six-day surgical marathon was a record-setting feat and part of a pioneering effort to expand transplants to patients who would normally never qualify.

Often a kidney is donated by a relative or very close friend if the physical match is adequate. Sometimes it is not. And often the wait for the right organ goes on indefinitely. But in this case, a ‘pool’ of organs widened the opportunities since many otherwise incompatible issues were solved by the mixing and matching of all the donors and recipients. Upon meeting her own donor, one happy recipient stated, "It's a large gift to give somebody, something so selfless. God bless you." At present, there are 88,000 people on the national waiting list for a kidney.

Medical advancements have provided a second chance for some who would have no hope otherwise. But in the case of organ transplants, the surgical know-how is just part of the equation and is insufficient without those willing to make a huge sacrifice.

As impressive as this personal and sacrificial gift of extended physical life may be, it cannot begin to compare to the length and quality of the life offered through the ultimate donor of life - God’s Son.

In his first letter, the Apostle Peter spoke of how Jesus Christ provided spiritual healing through the giving of His own body as an offering for sin. 1 Peter 2:24 reads, “Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness — by whose stripes you were healed.” Then, too, Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:25 related Christ’s own words about the part His own physical body would play in the redemptive plan of God. Just before His betrayal by Judas He declared, "Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me."

Scripture reveals the mind-boggling exchange of ‘sin for sainthood’ offered to every man by Jesus Christ. Paul makes that abundantly clear when he writes, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) God’s Son is the stand alone supreme donor as contended in 1 Timothy 2:4-5. “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.” And there are absolutely no compatibility issues whatsoever associated with the exchange of sin for salvation. “For "whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved." (Romans 10:13, John 3:16)

At this Christmas season millions of gifts will be thoughtfully given and happily received. Most will be joyfully exchanged under a tree. A few select others may even come via some surgeon’s skilled and life-extending hands. But no gift will ever match that of being the precious recipient of the One for whom the holiday is named. His love compelled Him to freely donate His all and to give His very best even while we were at our very worst.

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:7-8)

Bill Breckenridge

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Cost of Christmas

Christmas is becoming extremely costly especially if you take literally the folklore of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." I ran across a newspaper article listing the song’s itemized costs and wondered how our outlays for the incarnation holiday (holiday actually means "holy day") got so out of hand.

The article’s author took as a benchmark the "Twelve Days of Christmas" and, pricing each gift, made a comparison between the 2008 and 2009 shopping costs for the dozen items "my true love gave to me."

This exercise is obviously a total secularization of Christmas since the daily items have nothing to do with Christ except by accepting questionable tradition or simply promoting wild stretches of the imagination.

The traditional view is that the twelve days of Christmas are December 25 through January 5 leading to Epiphany on January 6, which celebrates the arrival of the wise men. It is observed by the Eastern Orthodox Church. Some believe that the gift items are analogies of God’s serialized love for believers or even veiled encouragement for the faithful in times of persecution.

But back to the high cost of financial fantasy for Christmas in 2009. As Bill wrote in the previous blog, Dan Hephin reveals the full bill for the gifts of the twelve days of Christmas is $87,403, up less than one percent over 2008.

Lost in the pricing is the real cost of Christmas to the original participants. I wrote about this last year, but it’s worth repeating.

First, Joseph had to struggle with marrying an expectant wife without the baby being his child. Maintaining celibacy until she delivered was a costly exercise in self restraint.

Mary gave up a community-accepted pregnancy, probably attended by incredulous sneers. She would live her remaining years in the shadow of shame and expecting her Christ child’s Cross. Mary twice traveled the 70-mile journey south, first to meet Elizabeth and then with Joseph to Bethlehem. To avoid a murderous Herod, the family would flee at night for the arduous round trip to Egypt.

Earlier, Zecharias’ part as John’s father cost him his ability to speak for nine months.
Faithful Messiah-watchers Anna and Simeon voluntarily paid the price by regular Temple visits and were rewarded with seeing their long-awaited Savior.

Shepherds left their midnight vigils over their flocks in the fields to make an impromptu visit to a humble cow stall and then shared the news with what were likely incredulous hearers.

Wise men traveled as long as two years for their brief gift-giving visit, and then found their lives jeopardized by a raging jealous King Herod.

Countless children under the age of two and their bereaved mothers would pay with life and grief as Herod’s soldiers rampaged through the area. Years ago, I visited a grave crypt near the Church of the Nativity where piles of infant skulls were interred. Our guide said they could have come from that distant infant slaughter.

Spiritual stress was borne by the nativity characters as demonic forces collided with angelic throngs over Bethlehem, a warfare obliquely seen in Revelation 12:4 which says, "…and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born."

All these costs, grim as they were, pale in comparison with God the beneficent Father and His given Son, who volunteered for the harsh journey from Heaven to earth. John 3:16 has it, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." When the Second person of the Trinity left Heaven for earth, it was a forgone conclusion that He would die and shed His precious blood, a priceless act providing access to redemption for all men.

Christmas cost God His Son and it cost His Son His life—all to give us the gift of eternal life (Romans 3:23, Ephesians 2:8 and Titus 2:14).

Accepting God’s gift is the ultimate immediate thanks. Living for Christ out of gratitude dignifies His gift on a continuing basis. Let’s all think about the cost of the gift this Christmas, receive it if we haven’t and live for Him if we have.

Dave Virkler

Terrible Tempest In Tigertown

He is the most recognizable single sports figure in the world and has earned nearly a billion dollars to date. But now, some of his staggering income may vanish forever in what may become the single biggest fall from sports grace ever!

He is Tiger Woods, the golfer who has dominated his sport more than any other. He may, in fact, have dominated his sport more than anyone has ever controlled any sport for that matter. His name has become synonymous with golf and has single-handedly lifted the sport to heights it enjoys today. But the recent scandal revealing his extra-marital activities may not affect his skill, but has surely begun to scare off a host of endorsers now that their prized athlete’s clean image has fallen into the gutter.

The Wall Street Journal has reported that advertisers have not aired TV commercials featuring Woods since shortly after the scandal broke. And Bloomberg News said that marketers have pulled all Tiger Woods ads from prime- time television broadcast networks, and 19 cable channels did likewise. The loss of income due to endorsement deals gone south is huge to Woods since estimates show that a whopping 90% of the golfer’s billion dollar earnings have come via that route.

Sin brings consequences. They may come soon. Or they may come later. But they will come. But the outward effects of sin are not always detectable in this life. In his letter to young Timothy, the apostle Paul wrote, “Some men's sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later. Likewise, the good works of some are clearly evident, and those that are otherwise cannot be hidden.” (1 Timothy 5:24-25)

The bottom line is that while the knowledge of, and judgment for, sin may escape the eyes of finite men, the Bible assures in Hebrews 4 that nothing gets past the notice of an all-knowing God. Verse 13 reads, “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” As Moses put it in Numbers 32:23, “and be sure your sin will find you out.”

No doubt millions of adoring Tiger fans will quickly forgive and forget. They may write off their idol’s actions as understandable. After all, he is filthy rich and he is the world’s most famous sports figure. That makes him a helpless target by scores of thrill-seeking and money-seeking women, making resisting all the temptations impractical. Some will turn their heads because they are blinded by the love of the sport. And there are those who feel that all eventually ends well since his offended wife stands to get some $300 million of his estate, should the couple part ways due to the high profile mess.

But what is most serious and most tragic is that some will make light of the golfer’s repeated indiscretions because they are simply blinded to the seriousness and consequences of sin. Scripture is clear that all sin is an offense to a Holy God and worthy of His judgement. (Romans 1:18-20) But it also reveals the increased level of seriousness when it comes in the form of Tiger Woods’ offense. 1 Corinthians 6:18 records the apostle’s words of warning. “Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.”

A sobered and repentant David realized the extent of his similar act in Psalm 51 where he confessed his hideous sin and did so to the one he offended most. Verses 3-4 read, “For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight.”

Tiger’s future, at least in the forum of public opinion, is up for grabs. But his primary problem remains not the regaining of his scared reputation, the loss of his highly lucrative endorsement deals, or even the repairing of the scared broken trust with his wife and family. His most crucial need now is to see what David saw and do what David did. What matters most now is that he ask God what David asked God in verses Psalm 51:910. David cried out, “Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God.”

Because the God of the Bible is also a God of love and mercy, David’s desperate plea is a miraculous possibility. It is within reach of any sinner - whether he be poor or rich. But the full spiritual repair of the eternal breech between God and man requires something huge and something personal. It requires the full admission of one’s own sinfulness. And it requires a fully faith-based acceptance and trust in Christ’s sacrifice for sin – something motivated by a full understanding of the words He Himself offered in Matthew 16:25-26.

“For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Give The 12 Days of Christmas?

With Black Friday 2009 in the books, the Christmas rush is off and running. And for those searching for the most unique gift ever, price notwithstanding, perhaps giving the proverbial “12 days Of Christmas” items would do the trick.

According to the annual "Christmas Price Index" compiled by PNC Wealth Management, the final cost of the various items bought repeatedly according to the song’s lyrics would top $87,000. The figures are meant to be humorous. But no doubt someone somewhere will give in to the temptation of impressing someone they love with what would be the most unusual and unique gift on earth – or is it?

To say that Christmas has become primarily a commercial venture would be a gross understatement. Even in the midst of an ongoing economic downturn, retailers were happy about 2009 Black Friday sales as evidenced by the scores who stood in long for days to seal the deal of their choice. Some will no doubt still owe on items bought this year when their repeat performance approaches new year. Perhaps Lucy, in ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’, had the general concept right when she said of the commercialism at Christmas, "It's all run by a big eastern syndicate, you know."

Everyone can grasp the words to the old song, “Christmas is for children”. In many ways, it is just that, since to kids the holiday seems so magical. But not nearly as many know, or care to, that Christmas is for far more than about those who are the chronologically challenged. It is far more than giving or receiving gifts. And it lies far deeper than decorations, parties, and family gatherings - as wonderful and warming as those things may be.

At its core, Christmas is not primarily about the ‘select’ giving from one person to another person even though the basic idea is derived from the Bible's account in Matthew 2:7-11. Christmas is about the giving. But it is about the giving of the Creator God to the creatures to whom He gave life. His gift is so unique, and so costly, as to be infinitely beyond the purchase of even those who could easily afford to give the literal “12 Days”. Considering the very name, it should be obvious that Christmas is the gift that is Christ!

To say that God’s Christmas gift to man was costly to Himself would also be a major understatement. No mortal can ever comprehend the spiritual depths experienced by God’s Son when He willingly and lovingly fulfilled His destiny – the one spoken of in 2 Corinthians 5:21. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us.” Then Romans 5:16 briefly reveals the reason, price, and the miraculous result when God’s supreme gift is personally embraced through faith. Paul writes in verse 16, “For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification.” Never has there been a gift that costs so much on one end and yet is so freely offered on the other.

Towards the end of the cartoon Christmas classic, a highly frustrated Charlie Brown finally breaks down and cries out , “Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?" It is then that little Linus Van Pelt steps into the stage spotlight and replies:

“Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about. 'And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'"(Luke 2:8-14)

Christmas gifts may be large, expensive, thoughtful, and personal in nature. Then, too, they can at times be the polar opposite. But the gift that ‘is’ Christmas represents perfectly the essence of pure love with a divine purpose. (Romans 5:7-8)

Sometimes at this wonderful season, bumper stickers and mailboxes will offer the now well-known phrase, “Keep Christ In Christmas” or “Jesus Is The Reason For The Season”. These are lofty and lovely words and a reminder to say the least. But practically speaking this need not be said. A Christmas minus the ‘Christ’ leaves only a ‘mas’ – or better yet, a ‘mess’.

When there is more concern about the financial aspects of Black Friday than the spiritual events of Good Friday, there really is no reason for the season - other than a futile and fragile focus on temporary material things!

Bill Breckenridge

Monday, November 30, 2009


The ultimate security breach was mysteriously accomplished at the first White House State Dinner, which honored Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. A clever and vivacious couple, Michaele and Tareq Salahi, managed to enter the affair and even have themselves photographed with high ranking guests including President Obama and Vice President Biden. They may have gone undetected had they not posted pictures on their Facebook page, evidently in hopes of momentary fame and a reality show slot in the future.

News analysts and investigators are still probing how this weird security lapse allowed these professional gate-crashers to slip through the ultra-tight security sieve and freely consort with the high and mighty of the nation in what is thought to be the most carefully guarded house in the land. Shocked and irritated security men and others who value Presidential protection in our dangerous world are calling for full-blown investigations and appropriate legal action against the adventurous couple.

Career gate-crashers are a fixture of public life with some previous innovators being banned from the Capitol. A more subtle spiritual deceit is a major theme of Christ’s teaching concerning entrance into the Kingdom of God. Every day, millions are guilty of a deliberate attempt to evade the entry requirements of Heaven. Mostly, they are self-deceived, establishing their own standards that contradict security passage. Christ outlined their attempts and condemned them in the strongest terms: "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber."(John 10:1)

That Christ Himself is the solitary entryway is clear in John 10:7–10. "Then Jesus said to them again, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.’"

This imagery of exclusive entrance to salvation is written into the old hymns of the church. In "There Is a Green Hill Far Away" by Cecil F. Alexander, we find one verse that reads,

There was no other good enough
To pay the price of sin;
He only could unlock the gate
Of heav’n and let us in.

In "The Way of the Cross Leads Home" Jessie B. Pounds penned,

I must needs go home by the way of the cross,
There’s no other way but this;
I shall ne’er get sight of the Gates of Light,
If the way of the cross I miss.

Then I bid farewell to the way of the world,
To walk in it nevermore;
For my Lord says, "Come," and I seek my home,
Where He waits at the open door.

Somehow, the White House gate-crashers got past security without their names being on the official guest list—a remarkable feat of deception. But now, their lust for fame and wealth has done them in, and they sacrificed their honor and character for a few miserable moments in pictures—moments of infamy that mean permanent exclusion from the White House and possibly Washington, DC.

The "thieves and robbers" who propose entry to Heaven by a lie are consigned to permanent exclusion. The guest list is a registry of the redeemed. "Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb's Book of Life." (Revelation 21:25-27)

In the hymn "Is My Name Written There?" Christian author Mary A. Kidder asks the timeless question and answers in faith.

Lord, I care not for riches, neither silver nor gold;
I would make sure of Heaven, I would enter the fold.
In the book of Thy kingdom, with its pages so fair,
Tell me, Jesus, my Savior, is my name written there?

Lord, my sins they are many, like the sands of the sea,
But Thy blood, O my Savior, is sufficient for me;
For Thy promise is written, in bright letters that glow,
"Though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them like snow."

Oh! that beautiful city, with its mansions of light,
With its glorified beings, in pure garments of white;
Where no evil thing cometh to despoil what is fair;
Where the angels are watching, yes, my name’s written there.

Dave Virkler

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Thanksgiving assumes both a recipient and a benefactor. Atheists must have severe ambivalence even celebrating the holiday. If there is no God, why observe a holiday begun and repeated as a grateful admission of all God’s goodness? In our tough times of financial stress, they could report for work the 4th Thursday of November, but even dissenters find a fringe benefit in the Thanksgiving holiday. (Actually, the word holiday derives from "holy day")

Thanksgiving is always a God-thing that reflects our national history and undercuts atheism, which snubs the very notion of God. It is amazing how the Plymouth Pilgrims were etched into our national history even before there was a United States. Perhaps its was their tenacity in sailing a wild ocean in pursuit of religious liberty or their famous pre-debarkation Mayflower Compact that begins "In the name of God, amen."

President Obama emphasized the Pilgrim spirit in his 2009 Thanksgiving Proclamation:

"What began as a harvest celebration between European settlers and indigenous communities nearly four centuries ago has become our cherished tradition of Thanksgiving. This day’s roots are intertwined with those of our Nation, and its history traces the American narrative. Today, we recall President George Washington, who proclaimed our first national day of public thanksgiving to be observed ‘by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God,’ and President Abraham Lincoln, who established our annual Thanksgiving Day to help mend a fractured Nation in the midst of civil war..."

Commendably, Mr. Obama concluded the proclamation, as with all presidential proclamations, with an obvious reference to God’s greatest gift of Christ:

"IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twentieth day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fourth."

The formality of ending "In the year of our Lord…" is a testimony to early national acknowledgement of the Lord Jesus Christ as the author of our calendar and the foundational truth of the nation. The phrase "In the year of our Lord," also appears in the conclusion of the U.S. Constitution signed in 1787. The founding fathers apparently knew more about the anchorage of history to the coming of Christ than modern detractors are willing to admit.

More specifically, the Bible enjoins divine thanks through Christ as the central figure of gratitude. Hebrews 13:11-16 clarifies it: "Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come. 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."

The old Swedish hymn by August L. Storm, written about 1891, says it eloquently:

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

Thanks for prayers 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 through all eternity!

Dave Virkler

A ‘Panda Protection Program’

It is not certain if panda bears can contract the H1N1 Swine flu. But China is taking no chances.

A research center in northwestern China has closed its doors to all visitors as a precaution to protect endangered species – the giant panda being priority one. It is not known if the beautiful creature is really susceptible even though reports from some veterinarians claim that small pets have indeed been infected. The center has banned any employees from the site who evidence any flu-like symptoms.

The giant Panda is viewed like a nation treasure in China and few would argue over the magnificence of the rare creature. Also, not many would even go against any normal attempts to protect the amazing creature from harm if possible. But this topic brings up a fundamental problem. That issue arises when the intense care and respect for an animal, any animal, is placed above the needs, rights, and value of people - all made in the image of God! (Genesis 1:26)

Modern China has come a long way in recent times and has become one of the economic superstars of the global community. But the nation is also resides near the top of the list in blatant human rights violations and has for countless decades. In her recent visit to the country, secretary of state, Hillary Clinton said human rights could not be permitted to “interfere” with larger concerns, such as global climate change and financial-market mayhem.” Apparently 'larger concerns' do not include government forced abortions?

When any system devalues human soul, the root cause is quite simple. It is all about, and only about, human sin. And the hands-down best description of the source and scope of sin comes from the pen of the Apostle Paul in chapter one of his letter to the Romans. He condenses the immense problem into a few well-chosen words beginning in verse 21.

“Because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man — and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.” Translated – they were willing to worship and adore everything and anything but the God who made them.

Then later on, Paul adds the eventual impact of suppressing the obvious existence and demands of the Creator. Verse 28 reads, “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.” When a debased mind controls a heart, an individual becomes incapable of basic understanding. He or she can no longer rightfully judge simple matters of right from wrong! This, in turn, causes all manner of evil behavior - some of which is spelled out in verses at the chapter’s end. Then, too, a mind in this state may eventually come to value, and treat better, animals over humans. A reprobate mind is, without exception, the worst and most dangerous spiritual condition possible. Left unchecked, it will one day bring the fair and right judgment from a holy God. (Romans 1:18-21)

Basic human rights and value do not originate from human beings. America’s founders understood God’s role in the equation. They got it fully right in the Declaration Of Independence. Their all too familiar, and nearly divinely inspired, words read, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are CREATED equal, that they are endowed by their CREATOR with certain ‘unalienable’ Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The church of Jesus Christ should be in fervent prayer for their oppressed brethren in China and other similar places. They should pray for that nation’s leaders, and that they somehow realize that they too are made in God’s image and desperately need His redemptive work in their hearts. But at the same time, Christians in American should pray for their own spiritually floundering nation. They should intercede for a culture in obvious moral decline - one that has seen the value of human life quickly erode. Like China, theirs is a nation in serious need of a serious return to their Creator – the one who alone allowed them to achieve the greatest prosperity and freedoms the world has ever known.

China’s ‘Panda Protection Program’ may help to save their valuable and precious creatures. But God’s priority is the saving of infinitely valued souls - all miraculously created in His own image and for His glory!

“This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” (1 Timothy 1:15)

Bill Breckenridge

Monday, November 23, 2009

When Enough Is Enough!

It is called 'The Manhattan Declaration’ and while its full impact is yet to be realized, its basic purpose is beyond overdue!

On his appearance on the "Huckabee" show, Charles Colson gave a review of what is known as The Manhattan Declaration (MD). The document was drafted on October 20th, and released a month later on November 20th. The MD by definition is said be ‘A Call to Christian Conscience’ and was brought about by a cross-section of Christian leaders as a reaction to their spiritually decaying culture.

The document is not meant to be a theological treatise, even though its basic three-fold purpose is based on generally accepted biblical truth. In other words, while the signers have certain doctrinal differences they are fully united on the goals they hope to achieve.

The MD shares its primary purpose like so:

“We are Orthodox, Catholic, and evangelical Christians who have united at this hour to reaffirm fundamental truths about justice and the common good, and to call upon our fellow citizens, believers and non-believers alike, to join us in defending them. These truths are:

The sanctity of human life.
The dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife
The rights of conscience and religious liberty.

Inasmuch as these truths are foundational to human dignity and the well-being of society, they are inviolable and non-negotiable. Because they are increasingly under assault from powerful forces in our culture, we are compelled today to speak out forcefully in their defense, and to commit ourselves to honoring them fully no matter what pressures are brought upon us and our institutions to abandon or compromise them. We make this commitment not as partisans of any political group but as followers of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

During Colson’s brief airing he stated how he and the other signers were willing to commit civil disobedience and even accept jail time, should their strong stand ever bring that kind of persecution. The MD is more than a collection of profound words. It is apparently backed by the willingness for personal action.

This same idea is not at all new. Back in 1981, theologian Dr. Francis Schaeffer authored a book entitled "A Christian Manefesto". It was a best seller. It dealt squarely with the nation's rising plague of secularism and humanism and the possible need someday for civil disobeience by the true church in America. Just imagine what Schaeffer would write some 28 years later in 2009?

In Acts chapter five the apostles found themselves again on trial for their faith. Their opposition was again the continually irritated high priests. The bad blood was caused by constant preaching of Jesus' followers despite being forbidden to do so. Verse 27 describes the rather intense confrontation.

“And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, saying, "Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man's blood on us!"

After hearing this latest round of threat and accusation, Peter came forward as the group spokesman. His powerful declaration came right to the point. Verse 29 reads, “But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: "We ought to obey God rather than men.”

After much advice and careful consideration, the high priests decided to release the men out of fear for their own safety. This was not, however, before offering yet another severe warning. “And they agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” (Acts 5:40-42)

Although some may not approve of civil obedience for the Christian, there is certainly a prime example of its use in the New Testament. Others may claim that the Acts incident was different because it involved only the freedom to preach the Gospel and was not just about cultural moral issues.

But the Bible is a moral and cultural book. It declares that faith apart works is dead or useless. And when that is linked with concepts like seen in Ephesians chapter five, it surely appears that Christians have certain biblical rights and duties as citizens of both heaven and earth.

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them." (Ephesians 5:8-11) “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15)

Scripture teaches that the church is to bring its beliefs to bear on its own society. Christians need to sometimes to speak out. This is especially crucial when their nation's leaders, and the culture in general, turn their backs on God and replace His holy principle with any morally harmful laws of man. For a chilling description of what a culture will eventually become when godly influence is silenced, read Romans 1:18-31. When any society spiritually crumbles, the godly and ungodly alike will share in the painful and dreadful results. Even the quickest review of Israel’s history will clear up any doubts as to the reality of this tragic truth.

The Christian life is not a spectator sport. If it is genuine, it should cause believers in Christ to openly share their faith while attempting to uphold the moral issues that should accompany it. Neglecting either brings about the terribly sad results offered by Jesus' own words and recorded in Matthew's Gospel account.

"You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. "You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5:13-15)

The Manhattan Declaration has declared its intent and taken a bold stand. Hopefully the church in America will understand the times, before it is too late, and soon do the same!

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Better Health Care? Just Tax The Rich!

As Americans get more and more concerned over who will ‘really’ pay for the massive new health care proposals, more and more seem to favor one source: anyone but themselves. Translated into everyday language: tax others, namely the rich.

This comes from a new AP poll based on phone interviews with 1,502 adults from October 29 to November 8. The findings were good news to Democrats who now hope to get their lengthy legislation package through the Senate after narrowly passing in the House.

Lawmakers are also looking at other options including taxing insurance companies, drug companies and medical device makers. The only problem with these measures is that any additional expense would eventually target the consumer anyway when prices are raised to pay for added tax hikes. Also, taxing the rich at a higher rate carries with it more than a strong hint of socialism - a system that has never worked for very long or advanced any nation very well.

Health care is critical. The issue’s current fever pitch surrounding it (no pun intended) makes that fact beyond the obvious. And it would be a gross understatement to say that there is much at stake to those with and without adequate coverage. But there is another struggle –one that infinitely exceeds any level of maintaining or repairing the physical body alone.

While the country’s leadership debates and battles on how to best alter, and then pay for, the perceived benefits for its citizens, the spiritual health of America remains assigned to the back burner – if it is even on the stove at all. And only a precious few politicians ever equate the results of sin and reckless living with the skyrocketing need for bigger and better care.

But there is at least one leading political voice that gets it. He stated his simple and common sense position like this. “America does not have a ‘health care’ problem as much as it has a basic health problem.” His point was right on target. In other words, if Americans would simply elect to live cleaner, healthier, and morally responsible lives, that ingredient alone would help to financially unburden the current system. That in turn would mean less overall medical intervention while allowing unavoidable health problems to gain the adequate treatment they require.

Heath care is an expensive proposition both in the physical and spiritual realms. The first category costs the nation ongoing aggravation and vast sums of money. But the other came at a cost to God’s Son and went far beyond any financial figures or fix. One requires a constant and ever-growing cash flow to meet the ever-increasing demand caused by poor personal choices and/or legitimate human sickness. The other was paid for in full when Christ died for the healing of the souls of men. His sacrifice never needs any improvement or adjustment. “It is finished” (John 19:30).

God’s spiritual wellness plan, in one way, did tax the rich to heal the poor. It covered the price forever for those who could never meet the requirement of the Creator of absolute holiness. (1 Peter 1:15-16)

Paul shared this sobering doctrinal truth in 2 Corinthians 8:9 where he wrote, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” The tenants of socialism, which will falter in any secular setting, become the very pinnacle of success and the ultimate spiritual solution. Basically, God’s redemptive plan was patterned upon socialism. It took the sinless perfection from His holy and beloved Son and placed it squarely in the account of any sinful man who freely embraces God’s grace and mercy through faith.

The hymn writer spoke that miraculous and ultra-effective plan like this:
“Jesus paid it all.
All to Him I owe.
Sin had left a crimson stain.
He washed it what as snow.”

America is in far greater need of spiritual revival than some man-made rejuvenation of its health care procedures – whether good or bad. In reality, the former could have a massive positive impact on the latter. But as long as the nation refuses to recognize or accept the cause and effect link between physical and spiritual health the current dilemma and plan will likely become more frustrating, expensive, intrusive, and ironically, more inefficient as time as precious time proceeds.

That is a rather unattractive option number one. The second alternative option comes via the supernatural wisdom given by the author of life, designer of the body, and Savior of the soul in Proverbs 3:5-8. The choice is simple - but the results are both practical and even eternal!

“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. 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.”

Bill Breckenridge

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

One Point

Get the point? Two sports teams got it, and two lost it in the final seconds of their respective games.

Nursing a 0-9 opening record, the hapless New Jersey Nets faced off with the Miami Heat last Friday evening. They had stifled the superstition of "Friday the 13th" and a 0-10 loss. With 4.1 seconds to go, the Nets were leading 80 to 78 and Miami had the ball. The Heat’s Wade got the inbound pass, dribbled unsteadily for a couple of those precious seconds, and pumped up a long shot from three-point range. And—swoosh—the Nets were behind one point with 1/10 of a second left. Their inbound pass was futile with only a sliver of a second, and they sadly lost their 10th straight game.

Two days later, a decades-old rivalry brought the New England Patriots to face the Indianapolis Colts. Toward the end of a brutally hard-fought turf war, a questionable 4th down call by the Patriot’s coach gave the Colts the ball, and they ultimately pushed on to a very late touchdown and a "squeaker" 35-34 win to maintain their undefeated season. Again, it was the slimmest of margins, but one point is all it takes. Be it ever so late, that single point spells victory.

Baseball icon Yogi Berra said it well despite his grammatical slang. "It ain’t over ‘til it’s over." While there is game time, there is hope.

Many a Christian victory is within reach, even though the human chances seem slim. Too often our self-prediction of seeming failure is self-fulfilling. If only we’d have pushed on.

Christ said, "I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work" (John 9:4). The old Christian song says,

Encamped along the hills of light,
Ye Christian soldiers, rise,
And press the battle ere the night
Shall veil the glowing skies.
Against the foe in vales below,
Let all our strength be hurled.
Faith is the victory, we know,
That overcomes the world.

The author understood the battle pressure of the fleeting moments of sunset—that terminal opportunity is extremely fragile.

Years ago, I was preaching in Bangor, PA, and we closed with the invitation hymn "Just As I Am." The hour was getting late, and we’d sung a number of verses, so I closed in prayer. Afterward, man came to me and said, "If you had sung just one more verse, I would have come forward." Sometime later in another place, a man shared how he had walked forward to receive Christ on the fifteenth verse of "Just As I Am."

Galations 6:9-10 declares, "And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith." The word "opportunity" is the translation of the Greek word "kairon," which is an unrepeated time frame of set length. It is best described by being a sacred parenthesis with beginning and ending.

Pro athletes know that they need to spend every ounce of competitive energy until that last second has expired, for the last second may mean the winning or losing difference of a single point. Fighting the good fight of faith, as Paul describes it in I Timothy 6:12, is no less demanding.

Dave Virkler

Monday, November 16, 2009

Find Your Financial Soul Mate

Money matters – A Lot.

That was the title of a recent article dealing with marital finances. Good Housekeeping puts it this way. “The best case scenario is that you find someone whose money strengths and values complement your own.” Their reason is simple. Money conflicts are one of the primary factors leading to today’s high divorce rate. To some, the matter is so weighty that they suggest that some general questions on the subject should be attempted even on the first few dates. The goal is to get a better sense of your date’s true money identity.

The subject of money is of course a crucial aspect of everyday life. The more modern the culture, the more money is an interracial factor in daily affairs. Knowing this to be true, the Bible also speaks to the subject – only in a different light than most economic and marital experts of the day.

The Scriptures seem to care little about how a couple handle their family money issues – with a few notable exceptions. For instance, there is reference made to the principle of lending. In this area, Luke 6 speaks to motives of God’s people when they feel the desire to lend a helping hand financially speaking. When they do, it should not be for some future material benefit for themselves. Verse 34 begins, “And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High.” It is also a given that God also expects those who are on the receiving end to be thankful, responsible, and to never take advantage of the goodness of those who help out.

Later in that same gospel account, a story is told about a woman who would be scorned by any of today’s typical financal gurus. The writer tells of her actions in Luke 21:1-4. “And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. So He said, "Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had."

Just try to imagine today anyone sanctioning the giving to God of nearly all of one's worldly assets and then trusting Him to supply all of their personal daily needs? That kind of attitude would be considered as pure madness without a clear understanding, and sound believing, in Jesus’ striking words about “seeking God first” in Matthew 6:33.

In the Old Testament book of Haggai, the prophet lays out a principle that certainly escapes the notice of those outside of God’s family. Tragically, many inside His inner circle of faith miss it as well. Verse 2 of chapter one begins with God’s serious indictment of all those who primarily focus their own material wealth and selfish wants.

He writes, "Thus speaks the LORD of hosts, saying: 'This people says, "The time has not come, the time that the LORD's house should be built."' "Then the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet, saying, "Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?" Now therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts:" Consider your ways! "You have sown much, and bring in little; you eat, but do not have enough; you drink, but you are not filled with drink; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and he who earns wages, earns wages to put into a bag with holes." Thus says the LORD of hosts: "Consider your ways!“

The financial principle here is quite plain and not at all difficult. Separate God’s will from your wallet and find that your finances suffer or even collapse - no matter how cleverly or professionally they are handled!

The profit Malachi likewsie brought it all into the briefst and most understandable of terms in the third chapter and the 8th verse. Two short questions and two equally quick answers are listed there. “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, 'In what way have we robbed You?' In tithes and offerings.”

For a Christian, it is not finding a “Financial Soul Mate" that is all-important. The Bible is concerned first that people agree, and be ‘equally yoked’, in the faith. (2 Corinthians 6:14) Afterwards, it becomes God’s desire for His people to agree to offer Him dominance in every aspect of life - including the use and distribution of their material blessings. When this is done, to the contrary advice of the ‘experts’, it is then that the personal promises of God come into play and the primary purposes of God are played out!

The Apostle Paul laid out one such promise for the serious disciple of Jesus Christ like this. “But this I say: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:6-9)

Yes, Money Matters - but only “A Lot” when used to achieve God’s eternal work and will!

Bill Breckenridge

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Lessons in Leaves

In many parts of the world, the cool chill of fall means a cascade of multi-colored leaves as the deciduous trees shed their food factories for another year.

In completely calm weather, some of these leaves head gently earthward. Add a drenching rain or howling wind, and some are simply wrenched off their branches. Whether by advancing season or an additional nudge from nature, they all become earthbound unless a temporary stop occurs in a bush or in the roof gutter. Most of this plunge is unappreciated, especially if a homeowner is stuck with laborious leaf-gathering and disposal.

The special blessings leaves afford are largely lost with those terminal fallings and cold rush of winter snows. In summer, leaves provide shade from the scorching sun and coolness beneath by transpiration, that marvelous means God built in to move moisture directly from the leaves into the atmosphere. (Remember shivering after coming out of the water after a swim? Evaporation removes heat and leaves you cool).

The falling leaves can teach us so much of Bible truth. Many believers pass off the earthly scene, and their special impact for Christ is as quickly forgotten as the withered and colorless leaves. Old age and the final departure can be a burden unless we understand each person’s inherent worth and precious focus for the Savior and retain it in our consciousness. Parents may have shaded us from the burning problems of life and cooled us down when we tended to overheat in a temper tantrum. And then the years speed by, and it’s time to move on from the summer of this life to an eventual eternal springtime in the next.

I recently considered the various descents of leaves. Some simply plummet down, with no grace or artful maneuvers. The final moments are no subject for a photo or picturesque narration. They just come down—period! Others seem to flutter, wobbling this way and that in an unpredictable dance with death. Some spiral like a glider squeezing out extra seconds of airborne grace. A few sometimes catch an updraft from a building or other object and soar magnificently for a few fleeting seconds before being finally earthbound. Oak leaves are among the last to fall, and some even linger for months until heavy snow or even the first flush of spring takes then down.

The annual leaf fall is a profile in the final variables of ultimate human descent. Recently, four friends went to be with the Lord, and their passage varied as do leaves heading down.

Dot lived for 95 years and was in great health for almost all of them. Then, at nine and half decades, way beyond the proverbial "threescore and ten," she left so very quickly. Florence reached 84 and spent the last few years in her room and in bed as she tumbled downward in a long spiral. Bill developed a treatable disease that slowly worsened with ups and downs, taking back healthy ground and then losing a bit more. At 67, long before anyone expected him to go, he simply plummeted down and went to be with Jesus. William spent his final years surrounded by family in graceful decline as retirement lowered him gently.

But they all eventually dropped away as Ecclesiastes 8:8 says. "No one has power over the spirit to retain the spirit, And no one has power in the day of death, There is no release from that war…." And, as Eccl. 3:1-2 says, "To every thing there is a season, A time for every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, And a time to die; A time to plant, And a time to pluck up what is planted…"

Years ago, my dear musical evangelist partner, blind Erick Webber, often sang "Where the Roses Never Fade" in our meetings. Sixteen years ago, he suffered a stroke, and, after months of downward spiral, left for Heaven.

I heard of Erick’s Homegoing while leading a tour to Israel, the same place where Jesus said to a grieving sister, "I am the resurrection, and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live" (John 11:25). As we traveled through a huge Israeli farm of thousands of acres of bright-faced sunflowers, I shared the lyrics of the song with our group:

I am going to a city,
Where the streets with gold are laid;
Where the tree of life is blooming,
And the roses never fade.

In this world we have our troubles,
Satan snares we must evade.
We'll be free from all temptations;
Where the roses never fade.

Loved ones gone to be with Jesus,
In their robes of white arrayed;
Now are waiting for my coming,
Where the roses never fade.

Here they bloom but for a season,
Soon their beauty is decayed.
I am going to a city,
Where the roses never fade.

(Janie West Metzgar – 1929)

Roses … leaves … humans …. They all tumble downward to the ground from which we were taken. For believers in Jesus Christ, the physical journey may be to the ground, but the spiritual transition is to God.

Dave Virkler

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Commander and Comforter-in-Chief

To say that the office and job of the President of the United States is a complex one would be a massive understatement. Not only does he oversee the most formidable military on earth, but he sets the agenda for the most powerful and influential nation on the planet as well. But sometimes the job requires other seeming lesser things – like comforting just a small percentage of the nation’s citizens who have experienced some sudden tragedy or deep form of heartache.

That was President Barak Obama’s task this week as he tried to offer words of comfort and hope to the devastated families of those brutally murdered at Fort Hood. His was not any enviable position to be in. But his is the position that demands it.

Bill Clinton helped rebuild his troubled presidency with the way he reacted to the vicious Oklahoma City bombings. Then, too, George W. Bush governed throughout some of the worst events ever in American history. There was 9/11, the worst terrorist attack ever on the nation’s soil. That was soon followed by Hurricane Katrina, the most traumatic and crippling natural disaster to ever hit the U.S. mainland. Along with these there came a series of smaller but still difficult events like the space shuttle explosion, a terrible shooting rampage at Virginia Tech, a tornado that wiped out a Kansas town, a bridge collapse in Minnesota, Midwestern flooding and the catastrophic California wildfires.

When horrific events like these hit, it is the responsibility of Commander-in-Chief to be the chief comforter to the individual citizens he leads. Again, it is a difficult requirement but a worthy and sacred role. It is also true that the popularity of a President, and even his platform, can be altered depending on how key events are handled in public.

The God of the Bible is well aware of the grief and frustration that is the eventual part of every life. The ability of the Creator to relate to those He created is mentioned in Hebrews 4:15. The writer records there, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” The Bible stresses forcefully that Jesus was 100% man while, at the same time, being 100% God. (Philippians 5:2-8) This miraculous and mysterious union enables Him to know how we feel when we face what we face. And while Christ’s human side can fully relate to our trials and needs, as fully God, He is able help man rightly respond and overcome them.

During His great prayer in John 14, Jesus was preparing His followers for His death and soon departure. He informed them that His leaving would not leave them some terrible void or sense of loss. Rather the Lord gave them a glimpse of the One who would take His earthly place on a full-time basis. It would be none other than His equal but in the form of the indwelling Holy Spirit. This part of the triune Godhead would not, in any way, be an inferior substitute to Christ’s physical presence. Instead, He would make available to all believers certain supernatural gifts and abilities.

One of the most critical of those assets is named in verses 16-18. John records Jesus’ words as follows. “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.”

He later re-emphasizes the reason for, and benefits of, His leaving. “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; it is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.” (John 16:7) The Spirit would no longer come and go for specific and limited ministry tasks as was the case in Old Testament times. (Psalm 51:11) But He would now empower and dwell permanently in the hearts and lives of every true follower of Christ. Jesus was simply trying to convey the superior value of this new spiritual relationship.

Pain and suffering have always been part of the human condition. The reasons should be obvious. First, man lives in a sinful and broken world. Then secondly, man has been made in the image of God! (Genesis 1:26-27) This amazing blend allows him to share certain of God’s attributes - the ability to love and sense grief and loss being a prime example. Emotional and relational suffering is a natural part of being human. But dealing with it, with any lasting degree of success, requires something unnatural – better yet, something supernatural. It requires the ongoing presence of perfect Comforter. It requires the helping and healing power of the Holy Spirit. And that requires an intimate knowledge Jesus Christ as Savior and also as Lord.

The words of the President to hurting families at Fort Hood were perhaps helpful – for that moment. But the words of Jesus to His family members allows for something outsiders can only dream of, and long for, when times of crisis arise.

“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27)

America’s “Comforter-in-Chief” may offer fine words of peace, But they cannot ever replace or equal the ministry of “Chief of all Comfort”.

Bill Breckenridge

Berlin Wall Anniversary

It has been 20 full years since one of history's most symbolic moments captured the gaze of the entire globe. It is a story of heartache, struggle, death and finally victory!

On November 9, 1989 one of the all-time great examples of tyranny began to crumble - literally.

It was the Berlin Wall. The structure had separated more than just scores of German families and the country’s most notable city. It separated the opposing principles of freedom and bondage and simple good versus evil. It was a line that had divided, in many ways, the civilized world for 28 long and painful years. The 96 mile long span was also the site of the 136 deaths of those who thought it important enough to risk their lives rather than live in bondage.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Sunday that "the ideals that drove Berliners to tear down that wall are no less relevant today." And Lutheran Bishop Wolfgang Huber told the congregation at the Gethsemane Church, "We remember the tears of joy, the faces of delight, the liberation."

His words rang true, but only those who personally experience a Berlin Wall, or something like it, can truly relate to its devastating and lingering effects. All others must try to imagine what that specific form of suffering might be like.

The existence and tearing down of the Berlin Wall carries a deeply significant spiritual illustration. There is a wall that separates God from all men. It begins at birth. It affects all the same. But it does not come through the typical treachery of some earthly entity. Scripture teaches that man is born in sin, separated from God, and without hope in the world (Psalm 51:5, Ephesians 2:11-13). Even so, the Apostle Paul makes it abundantly clear that these effects of this grim reality are reversible when man’s faith is linked with God’s grace. He condenses the matter down to just a few powerful and profound words in Ephesians 2:8-9. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

A few verses later Paul reveals some of the spiritual mechanics of how God accomplished this miraculous and eternal task. He uses language similar to that often used of Berlin’s wicked wall. Ephesians 2:14-17 reads, “For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.”

Scripture is clear that man is born into sin, separated from God, and without hope in the world (Psalm 51:5, Ephesians 2:11-13) Fortunately it is equally clear that sin’s dreadful effects need not reign supreme since there is a way to flatten this most destructive of all walls. Romans 5:8 provides the foundational reason for God’s tearing down of the relational wall between Himself and those He made. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” It was that unique love that caused Christ to fully smash through the wall of sin that divided all humanity from Himself. The route of escape has been fully cleared. That is all about God’s grace. But each and everyone must chose to walk it to arrive at the place of spiritual freedom. That is all about man’s personal faith.

It seems highly symbolic that Bishop Wolfgang Huber addressed his congregation from a church called Gethsemane – the name of the place where Christ prayed just before becoming the divine target for the sins of man. No doubt many in Huber’s flock recalled the building and tearing down of Berlin’s wall of woe. Some there maybe lived behind it until escaping its destructive grasp. With that said, those and likely many others still live today behind a self –imposed ‘spiritual’ iron curtain. Perhaps they recall well that moment of great national freedom. Some will remember vividly gaining their own physical release, but unaware that they remain captives from birth in another realm on this great anniversary.

Some will be forced to live in physical bondage for part or all of their earthly lives. That is just a tragic part of life in a fallen world. Then there are those who are blessed enough to never experience that brand of suffering. But both share equally in something far more serious and infinitely deadly.

All who will ever draw a single breath are born spiritually captive and in desperate need of escape. They face together a serious universal flaw but have access to the solitary universal cure. That exclusive repair is quite simple in its requirement (2 Corinthians 11:3) but beyond stunning in its impact. (Colossians 1:13) It requires only a sincere act of faith in response to God’s sacrificial act of grace. And when that great wall of separation is broken down by God’s greater act of grace, then will the great words in the Bible writer become the equally great testimony of the Bible reader!

“Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

Bill Breckenridge