Thursday, February 26, 2009

Lessons From a Car Wash

Occasionally a personal experience may have an extensive lesson, and this is one of those times.

On a recent drive to Nashville, Tennessee for the annual National Religious Broadcasters convention, our road salt-covered car needed a good bath. While pumping gas, I noticed that the station had a car wash attached to the food mart. I punched in the request, and my receipt printed at the pump and gave me an authorization number.

I drove around the building to the pay console and entry into the automatic wash tunnel, which was dead ahead. A pickup truck was parked motionless on the carwash track with an irritated driver getting in and out of the cab. Eventually he came back to the pay console, which was just outside my window. He told me that the car wash wasn’t working even though he’d put his $5.00 in. Nothing was happening, and he’d been back and forth pushing every refund button possible. The people inside the food mart were unable to help since they had nothing to do with the car wash.

He stooped down to peer into the scratched and sun faded pay console, which indicated he should put in two more dollars. He said he wouldn’t do that since he’d already put in a five dollar bill. Frustrated, he slowly drove off through the waterless wash tunnel and out of sight around the building.

We thought that we, too, might have the problem, but we thought we’d give it a try. Since we had paid for the car wash at the pump, I had to enter an authorization number on a key pad like the old telephone booth equipment that almost no one uses anymore. I slowly punched in my authorization number. Expecting the worst, I was shocked to hear a whirring like a dead piece of equipment suddenly resurrecting itself. And then kachink … kachink … kachink … kachink 20 times. The machine spat out twenty quarters into a tray—two whole handfuls!

Apparently, the truck driver’s five dollars was being refunded but was transformed from a wrinkled bill into a flood of hard cash. I felt perhaps I’d been transported to Atlantic City or Las Vegas where slot machines seldom turn routine losses into payoffs, though I’ll never know exactly how that works in any actual gambling place.

We tried to find the pickup owner, but he was long gone. I climbed into my car and proceeded through the soak, soap and rinse cycles with his $5.00 refund covering most of the cost of my $7.00 wash.

A total stranger had just inadvertently financed our car wash. Instead of a salt-encrusted, unappealing vehicle, we drove off in a sparkling mini-van fit for the upscale parking lot at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel. We hoped that perhaps we’d find our benefactor at a rest stop, but we never did.

It gave us a lesson of Jesus’ love. Our nameless friend provided us with a car wash, but our Savior gave us a soul wash through His precious blood.

We can musically ask the old hymn question, "Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing power? Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?" That’s a reaffirmation of Revelation 1:5b & 6: "…To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen."

Christ’s suffering was not accidental but carefully planned from eternity past and named in "the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8). His payment was supremely costly in cleansing our sins as 1 Peter 1:18-21 puts it. "…knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you."

We regretted we couldn’t find our car wash benefactor, but much worse is failed gratitude to the personal Source of our greatest gift. When Jesus healed ten lepers, only one returned to thank Him. The Lord sadly asked, "But where are the nine?" (Luke 17:17).

Seldom do I find a spiritual lesson in a car wash, but this one will linger a long time. Jesus’ generous self-sacrifice will linger forever. Elisha A. Hoffman set the theme to poetry:

Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing power?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Are you fully trusting in His grace this hour?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

Are you walking daily by the Savior’s side?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Do you rest each moment in the Crucified?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

When the Bridegroom cometh will your robes be white?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Will your soul be ready for the mansions bright,
And be washed in the blood of the Lamb?

Lay aside the garments that are stained with sin,
And be washed in the blood of the Lamb;
There’s a fountain flowing for the soul unclean,
O be washed in the blood of the Lamb!

Are you washed in the blood,In the soul cleansing blood of the Lamb?Are your garments spotless? Are they white as snow?Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

Dave Virkler

The President Addresses Congress

It was not a formal State of The Union address, but President Obama did address the Congress and the American people with his 50+ minute speech. The Commander-in-chief touched on nearly every area of American life with his vision of what must be done to improve the state of the nation.

As the American people watched, they likely came down on one side or the other as far as the President's approach and philosophy of governing the nation. But for those who are committed Christians, there should always be another layer. There should come biblical reminders of some spiritual truths, even when analyzing fully secular words or subjects. The Christian’s mind should be so saturated with theological and biblical truth that nearly every conversation can conjure up portions of God’s word or even an opportunity for testifying to the reality of their faith.

For example, speaking of economic issues, the President said, "A day of reckoning has arrived and the time to take charge of our future is here." That phrase might remind some of an eternal day of reckoning – one referred to in Hebrews 9:27. “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.”

On the health care crisis the new President stated, “Let there be no doubt: Health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait and it will not wait another year.” The urgency in his voice may have been a sobering reminder of something far more urgent and seen in 2 Corinthian 6:2. “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation."

Then Mr. Obama, speaking of a positive change in the economy, said, "Tonight I want every American to know this: we will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before." For some that might trigger thoughts of the reality found in 2 Corinthians 5:16-17 where an amazing recovery from the power and penalty of sin is found. ”Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

Speaking about the bailout he said, “Banks that accept government bailout money will be held 'fully accountable' for how they use it." This concept of personal responsibility can be seen in several verses. Philippians 2:12-13 states to the Christian, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Then Luke 12:48 also supports the concept. “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.”

Then there was this one. “Our goal is to quicken the day when we re-start lending to the American people and American business and end this crisis once and for all.” In 2 Peter 3:11-12 the apostle speaks about ‘ushering’ in a time that will change the world more than any monetary process. “Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God.”

Also the word ‘quicken’ is used in the old King James Bible repeatedly in the 119th Psalm – the longest chapter in the Scriptures. Among other things the Psalmist says, “LORD, quicken me according to thy judgment.” (Verse 149) “Great are thy tender mercies, O LORD: quicken me according to thy judgments.” (Verse 156) “Consider how I love thy precepts: quicken me, O LORD, according to thy loving kindness." (Verse 159) And in Psalm 119:33 he writes, “Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken thou me in thy way.”

Serious Christians are to be a biblically oriented people. Most everything in life should be analyzed, compared to, and contrasted with the Bible's spiritual truth - whether it is a speech from a President or a conversation around the office water cooler. And to do that requires a spiritual maturity. It demands a constant and serious ‘quickening’ as enforced three times over in that same 119th Psalm.

“Quicken me, O LORD, according unto thy word.” (Psalm 119: 25, 107, 154)

Bill Breckenridge

Please e-mail us with your thoughts and comments!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Global Crisis = anti-Christ’s Coming?

The economic woes now felt in America are not an isolated condition - even though it is rather obvious now that the nation’s leadership allowed, and even caused much of the devastating situation. But the stark reality is that much of the world’s markets are following suit. This can be seen particularly in Europe and in some Asian countries as well.

For example, European stocks added to their line of losses amid worries that governments were struggling to figure out how help the banking sector get back on its feet, which is widely considered necessary before an economic recovery can begin. In Japan the spreading nervousness sent the Nikkei 225 index in Tokyo to 7,268 points, only about 100 points above a 26-year low. The intensifying concern about the state of the economy and stock market caused the country’s finance minister to say that the government was studying measures to support the market — including suggestions that the government actually buy shares.

The expanding global trend sees governments getting heavily involved in rescue plans. And growing numbers worldwide are voicing the need for a possible world-wide solution as they see no clear way out otherwise.

The Bible has given signs concerning the return of Christ – one primary key being the re-establishing of Israel as a nation as seen in Luke 21:24. “And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” The general and fearful climate of entire world is also addressed in the passage in verses 25-26. “And on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth.” From the current “signs of the times” it would appear that the Lord’s long awaited return is very near!

But it is also beyond interesting and coincidence that the scene is quickly being set for the arrival of the one most know simply as “anti-Christ”. This charismatic and demonically controlled leader will offer a false peace followed by a reign of terror the likes of which the world has never known. And when considering that the entire world is beginning to scramble for anyone who can rescue, and perhaps fully control, the faltering global monetary system, Revelation 11:16 has taken on a whole new meaning – one that might not have gelled before the current crisis. Verse 16 reads, “He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.”

As troubling as the world’s worries have become, Christians can and should have a different view on it all. While those who do not know Christ as their Savior may be wondering about their future or even fearing the predicted ‘man of sin’, believers are to set their sites on their returning and victorious king. They are to take comfort in Luke 21:28. “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near."

But beyond the supernatural peace of God in these end times and turbulent days, followers of Christ need to answer and respond to the question offered up in 2 Peter 3. “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God.”

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Spiritual Lessons from Flight 3407

Last week, Continental Airlines Flight 3407 plummeted suddenly from the sky, killing all 49 aboard and one person on the ground. Every aviation expert in government is examining causes and striving for future prevention of such tragic accidents. While I’m not an expert, since I learned to fly years ago, any flight issue is of personal interest.

Piloting a plane in any weather demands one’s keenest concentration, and flying through dangerous weather is taxing beyond words. If evasive or corrective action is delayed, flight may become impossible.

One thing is certain: adverse weather, particularly ice buildup, was the chief factor, and pilot action or inaction will surely figure in a final report. Flight depends on an invisible principle of uneven wing pressure with less on the top than the bottom. It is created by the wing’s airfoil, or shape, which speeds more air over the top than the bottom. The principle that where the velocity is greatest, the pressure is least was discovered by Daniel Bernoulli about one hundred years before fight was attained. Incredibly, propellers are miniature wings urging a prop plane forward in similar fashion as the wings keep it up. When ice builds up on wings and propellers, a dual disaster stalks the plane.

In the case of Flight 3407, danger was known. The de-icing rubber bladders on the leading edges of the wings and horizontal tail stabilizers had been activated shortly out of Newark Liberty International Airport. But in an evident conspiracy of misty factors, something went terribly wrong over Clarence, NY on the final approach to Buffalo.

Spiritual lessons abound when one studies aircraft flight.

The plane stays aloft by an invisible principle. Although faith is unseen, its effects are real. Hebrews 11:1 says it is "the evidence of things unseen." Planes stay aloft on moving air. A passenger embarks on air travel having faith trusting this unseen principle.

When Christ explained salvation as the born again experience to inquisitive Nicodemas in John 3:8, He referred to the unseen but very real wind as an example of spiritual rebirth. "The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit." Both air travel and spiritual rebirth demonstrate that belief transcends physical sight.

The guiding work of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, is couched in wind terms. The return of ancient Israel to its land in modern times was forecast by Ezekiel. "…‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, "Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.’ " ’ So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army." (Ezek 37:9-10)

The Holy Spirit’s work in believers’ lives was caught by Edwin Hatch in the hymn "Breath on Me, Breath of God".

Breathe on me, Breath of God, fill me with life anew,
that I may love what thou dost love, and do what thou wouldst do.

Breathe on me, Breath of God, until my heart is pure,
until with thee I will one will, to do and to endure.

Breathe on me, Breath of God, till I am wholly thine,
till all this earthly part of me glows with thy fire divine.

Breathe on me, Breath of God, so shall I never die,
but live with thee the perfect life of thine eternity.

Aircraft also depend upon forward motion to maintain altitude. Slowing below a certain airspeed brings the dreaded stall, which is lethal at low altitude. In the Christian life, failing to "go on to perfection" (Heb. 6:1), which is completion or maturity, can slow our spiritual airspeed and bring us down.

Careful attention is also being paid to whether or not the pilot followed the rules written in the flight manual provided by the manufacturer as well as principles suggested by the FAA. Manual control by turning off the autopilot evidently was prescribed. Only time will tell whether the pilot’s option to do this quite late was within the best options of the flight manual.

Careful study and application of God’s Word gives adequate instructions in righteous living. Psalm 19:7-11 says, "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, Yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them Your servant is warned, And in keeping them there is great reward."

In the case of Flight 3407, another spiritual lesson may be learned relevant to the stormy weather that slowly froze ice on the wing, tail and possibly propeller surfaces. This buildup was slow, a droplet at a time. Each drop in itself is not a problem, but when they accumulate unattended, there is danger of a crash as airflow over the wings and control surfaces destroys lift.

Big problems in our lives often develop from a clutter of little issues. The saying, "Little foxes spoil the grapes," is taken from Song of Solomon 2:15. In our Christian lives, any sin needs immediate confession and cleansing lest a buildup of these unconfessed sins bring us down. I John 1:9 indicates that if we recognize and confess what we know is wrong, God grants a blanket policy of forgiveness. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

Years ago I learned that safe flying depends on good attitude and altitude. To get off the ground and climb, the plane has to have a powered upward trajectory. The upward pitch of the craft is called "attitude." And to maintain altitude means keeping the airspeed up. It all comes down to diligent focus on the rules and principles of flight.

Our spiritual journey keeps us looking up and is powered by the indwelling Holy Spirit. It’s maintained by forward motion and stays aloft by clean lives lived in faith. Life’s final glide path is the only time we land, taxi to Heaven’s hanger and cut the engines.

Dave Virkler

Methods of Cutting Stress

Nutritional biochemist Shawn Talbott, PhD, knows about stress. He has written the book, "The Cortisol Connection”, that deals with the subject. Cortisol is the human stress hormone which helps to regulate blood pressure during a sudden crisis. That is generally a good thing. But constant elevated cortisol levels due to the everyday issues that bother us is not. It can cause sleeplessness, problems with the immune system, weight gains and of course the all too common feelings of panic and depression.

Experts in the field tell of several ways to deal with too much cortisol and the unpleasant effects that brings. For instance, cortisol can be cut 50 percent by going to bed early or taking a nap, 66 percent by listening to preferred music, 39 percent by hanging out with a funny and upbeat friend, 47 percent by sipping black tea and even 12-6 percent just by chewing gum.

Interestingly, it was also mentioned was that doing something ‘spiritual’ could help reduce cortisol levels by nearly 25 percent. A report out of the University of Mississippi found that churchgoers had lower levels of the stress hormone, on average, than those who did not attend services at all. It suggested that, if organized religion is not your thing, then try developing your spiritual side by walking in the woods or beach — or even volunteering for a charity.

It is widely known that spiritual wellness is a key to dealing with the stress and strain of modern day living. But for that to be fully effective requires more than being one with nature or even just ‘attending’ a place of worship, as crucial as that may be. The Bible speaks repeatedly about the only lasting source of deep inner peace in the midst of great outward anxiety. In 2 Thessalonians 3:16 we see the ultimate source and target of peace. “Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way.” It is again mentioned in Galatians 1:3-4, “Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age.” Also, Galatians 5 includes peace in a list of blessings and benefits derived from God and available to every true child of God. Verse 22 begins, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”

But perhaps no verse in Scripture better explains how peace is attained and the full extent of what a God-ordained peace can provide than Philippians 4:6-7. It reads, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

Dealing with human cortisol levels may have some positive physical impact on the body when trying to cope with life’s stressful issues. But a maturing and enduring relationship with God’s Spirit allows for a level of calm, confidence, and contentment that is any Christian’s greatest asset and the most basic need for a world searching for it in all the wrong places. And those who seriously desire to know its purpose and power need only consider the words of the Savior who authored and offers it in John 14.

“And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever. " (John 14:16)

“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)

Bill Breckenridge

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

First Khmer Rouge Genocide Trial

It became known simply as the ‘The Killing Fields’ and was one of the most vile examples of massive evil in modern times.

To make a long horrendous story short, the communist terror group, Khmer Rouge, starved, tortured, and butchered much of Cambodia’s population, including children. When the blood bath ended around 1975, an estimated 2 million of the country’s 7.5 million residents had been exterminated. It was one of the most lethal regimes of the 20th century.

And now, three decades later, the head of a prison where some 16,000 men, women and children were tortured before being killed has appeared before Cambodia's genocide tribunal. Kaing Guek Eav is being charged with crimes against humanity in the first trial of a Khmer Rouge leader since their mind-numbing reign back in the 70’s.

Any who doubt the existence of sin, and the depths to which mankind can sink, need look no farther than the Killing Fields. And none need wonder why such things occur, since the Bible takes great care to explain the source and reality of human depravity -especially in Romans chapter one.

But the Scriptures also make abundantly clear that all sin will be dealt with in eternity, even if it escapes man’s justice on earth. The writer of Hebrews put it this way. “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment." (Hebrews 9: 27) The Apostle Paul spoke forcefully on the reality of what unrepentant sinners have to look forward to in his letter to the church at Rome. In chapter one and verse 18 he wrote, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” He repeated his declaration in the very next chapter. “But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each one according to his deeds." (Romans 2:5-6)

But even with that basic understanding in place, what is often overlooked is that guilt before God and punishment by Him is not geared only toward those who commit huge unspeakable acts. And His wrath will not be focused on just those who happen to have a ‘life-long ledger’ which reveals a little more in the bad column than the good. The Bible assures in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And a just and holy God has no choice but to righteously deal with it. To not do so would be a violation of His own character, and a theological impossibility.

Scripture also shares a vivid illustration in Revelation about what it will be like for those who must someday face their Creator with absolutely no excuses, and far worse, no Savior. “And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?" (Revelation 6:151-7)

The brutality of human sin is all too real. Fortunately so is the reality of a salvation that can cope with it. Just following the reality of Paul’s statement that all fall short of God’s glory comes the glorious opposite potential in verse 24. “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith.” The writer John selected his words on the subject this way. “And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." (1 John 2:1)

Kaing Guek Eav is charged with crimes against humanity and will no doubt receive whatever is deemed appropriate for his wretched acts. But his sin was not just against humanity. It was also aimed at deity. (Psalm 51:4) And his judgment in the earthly realm will be as a drop in the ocean if and when he faces God’s wrath without the defense of redemption found only in Jesus Christ!

Bill Breckenridge

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The President's First News Conference

In the first prime-time news conference of his presidency, President Barack Obamaaddressed the American people while urging members of Congress to move quickly with his massive economic stimulus plan. The Commander-in-Chief warned that a failure to act "could turn a crisis into a catastrophe." In addition, he stated, "The plan is not perfect. No plan is. I can't tell you for sure that everything in this plan will work exactly as we hope, but I can tell you with complete confidence that a failure to act will only deepen this crisis as well as the pain felt by millions of Americans."

The merits of the proposed plan to rescue the faltering economy will not be known for some time. Some feel the plan is right on target. Others feel it will only add insult to injury and burden both present and future generations in an unprecedented way. But what is perhaps most tragic in it all is the utter lack of bringing God into the equation on any level. It is as though He did not even exist, and if He does, He is unable to help. Some might even wonder the worsening scenario as yet another way of God attempting to awaken a spiritually dulled nation.

In Matt 6 Jesus spoke out forcefully about making material things the focal point of life.Beginning in verse 25 He presents a series of questions attempting to show that He is the ultimate provider and the One who can bring true peace when worldly worries pursue.

"Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?" In verse 33 He offers His solution. “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

Even if the economic crisis were turned around fully and every American were to prosper greatly in the coming years, that would not address a far more terrifying danger – one spoken of in Matthew 16. Verse 26 asks the most sobering of al questions. "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?”

President Obama said, "The plan is not perfect. No plan is.” Again his assessment is accurate - unless it deals with the saving of one’s eternal soul and not his 401K. In that realm a perfect plan does exist. It carries with it the genius and guarantee of the Creator God. His plan is simple, perfect, and contains no extra ‘spiritual pork barrel’ items. This strategy is best revealed in what is the best known verse in all of Scripture. “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." (John 3:16) Paul and Silas, in Acts 16:31, also presented the plan – this time using just 11 sacred words. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”

The President warned his nation that a failure to act swiftly on his rescue plan "could turn a crisis into a catastrophe”. But God’s word warns that everyone has been born into spiritual crisis and in desperate need of a supernatural bailout. Even so, this looming spiritual catastrophe need not last. It can be instantly and permanently turned into a life of prosperity and victory when God’s flawless recovery plan is implemented through faith in Jesus Christ.

“How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Hebrews 2:3)

Bill Breckenridge

Monday, February 9, 2009

Suicide for Love ?

A 13-year old Chinese girl attempted suicide this past week by taking 200 sleeping pills. She survived and is in critical condition after being rushed to a Shanghai hospital.

The act was obviously sad and terrifying to the family, especially in light of the current teen suicide statistics. But that is not the entire story. Apparently, the teen learned that her father was dying of liver cancer. In response, she wrote a note to her mother stating, "Mom, I am sorry that I could not be with you anymore. Please give my liver to father after I die." Ironically, after the attempt, she was rushed to the same hospital where her father was receiving treatment.

The story, while tragic, also has at least one positive element. The fact that a young girl would go to such lengths to save her beloved father is, to say the least, amazing, But from the biblical standpoint, it is far more crucial that those about to enter eternity be spiritually healed more than physically repaired! And what is far more amazing is what God’s Son did to accomplish just that great feat. Romans 5:6-8 offers keen insight on this life-altering truth. “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

The Apostle Paul added to the sobering significance of what Christ did in Philippians 2. In verse 8 he wrote, “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.”

It has been said that ‘love makes the world go around’ and there is an element of truth in those words. And in John 15 the Lord Himself shared the depths of the ultimate form of love. Beginning in verse 12 He condensed it all down to a one pure and all-encompassing concept. “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends."

Throughout human history, men and women have demonstrated great acts of love and kindness especially for those in their immediate earthly families. That is what should come natural. And when man does so, it is primarily about his being made in the image of a loving compassionate God. (Genesis 1:27)

But those who are in Christ through saving faith have become an extension of their Lord’s hands and feet on earth. The target of their love is to go beyond those with whom they share mere human links or affection. Scripture affirms that they are to hone in primarily on those who have become their spiritual partners and their family of faith as clearly specified in Galatians 6:9-10.

“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."

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

From “Muck” to MVP

Santonio Holmes is this year’s Super Bowl MVP. With his five-time Super Bowl-winning Pittsburgh Steelers trailing the Arizona Cardinals 23-20 with only 35 seconds left, Holmes was thrust into the game by trusting coaches and the high expectations of his teammates. And Holmes did it.

In the right corner of the end zone, with three defenders closing in, Holmes leaped high into the air, gathered in another of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s incredible passes, tucked the ball away, landed inbounds with tiptoe maneuvers, and fell out of bounds controlling the ball, insuring the Steelers’ narrow margin of victory 27-23.

Holmes’ background reveals moral failures contrasting sharply with his Super Bowl breakthrough. He sold drugs on the street growing up in rural Belle Glade, Florida where the black soil is called "muck." Last fall, he was suspended briefly for drug possession. But brilliant athleticism and the lure of decent sport brought Holmes to the Super Bowl, to team victory and athletic immortality in football’s most famous game. He matched the stunning feat of the ’08 Super Bowl when the New York Giants’ Plaxico Burress snared the winning pass also with exactly 35 seconds left.

Athletic references are sprinkled throughout the New Testament. The Apostle Paul spoke of winning the prize in 1 Cor. 9:24-25: "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown." He added in Philippians 3:14, "I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."

Hebrews 12:1-2 captures the race in the spiritual arena. "Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."

Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of these athletic references is that the worst of candidates can become the best of competitors. Paul notes that he was the worst of sinners but was graciously placed in meaningful and effective Christian service. "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. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life." (1 Timothy 1:15-17)

Older hymns caught this transformational theme. Charles Gabriel wrote,

From sinking sand He lifted me,
With tender hand He lifted me;
From shades of night to planes of light,
O praise His name, He lifted me!

In her hymn "He Ransomed Me," Julia Johnson penned,

There’s a sweet and blessed story
Of the Christ who came from glory,
Just to rescue me from sin and misery;
He in loving-kindness sought me,And from sin and shame hath brought me,
Hallelujah! Jesus ransomed me.

Hallelujah! what a Savior,
Who can take a poor, lost sinner,
Lift him from the miry clay and set me free!
I will ever tell the story,
Shouting glory, glory, glory,
Hallelujah! Jesus lifted me.

The athletic pattern of Santonio Holmes going from the pits to the heights is long predated by the biblical pattern of the grace of God through Christ, where hopelessly lost and wayward sinners may be transformed into gloriously saved and honorable servants. God’s biblical Hall of Fame is found in Hebrews 11 where previous failures are listed among the spiritual victors. It was all through faith in the God who has unlimited power of transformational grace.

Dave Virkler

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Celebrating a Century

He has always been the setup man for the world’s most famous evangelist, whom he met and befriended almost 70 years ago. His famous voice is typically heard just before Billy Graham preaches the message of God’s salvation through Christ alone. His name is George Beverly Shea.

The 100-year old singer has been receiving widespread birthday greetings including a card from England’s Queen Elizabeth. Shea attributes his long life and good health to God’s love. He says it is nothing short of a great privilege to be associated for so long with the Graham organization. It has been reported that Graham felt Shea’s vocal introductions to be so important to the ministry that he told his long-time partner that he would not preach unless he first sang.

In Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 25, Jesus offered what has come to be known as the parable of the talents. He related a story of a man who divided talents among his servants for investment purposes. A talent was the heaviest unit of weight in the Hebrew system and was used to weigh gold, silver, iron, bronze and many other commodities. The common talent weighed about 3000 shekels or the full weight that a man could carry. For example, one talent of silver would be approximately four-hundred pounds and equal to about one-thousand nine-hundred and forty dollars.

The parable relates how three servants were given talents to be used wisely and increased during their employer’s absence. Of the three servants, the two had received multiple talents and, using their energy and ingenuity, they doubled the original amounts they were given. But the third servant did nothing and even buried his asset in the ground due to fear and insecurity. His inaction enraged his master who fully expected him to prosper during his absence. This led to the removal of his original talent, harsh critical words, and a shameful separation from his peers. But the others who acted wisely were treated to praise and reward from their master in verse 23. “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.”

In his first letter, Peter addressed the living of the Christian life, especially considering the believer’s status as a pilgrim in a strange and godless world. In chapter 4 he spoke of the need for, and the effects of, a fervent Christian love. He then related the importance of using whatever spiritual gifts God has bestowed at the moment of their spiritual birth. Verse 10 reads, “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”

Paul also weighs in on the reality of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12. In verses 4 he writes, “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord.” Then in verse 11 he adds, “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.”

The Christian life begins at the moment of the new birth. But living out the faith requires involvement in faithful and meaningful Christian service. The target is that of become a ‘good steward’ as exemplified by a George Beverly Shea. And that requires the use of whatever gift or gifts an omniscient God has bestowed for our good and His ultimate glory. Only then will a child of God ever possess the confident peace spoken of by Paul in 2 Timothy 4:6-8. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” And only when God-given gifts are recognized, developed, and faithfully put in practice can Christians ever hope to someday stand before their Lord and be welcomed with words like these:

“Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.” (Matthew 5:23)

Bill Breckenridge

Monday, February 2, 2009

Why Aren’t You More Popular?

Ever wonder why some people are simply outgoing and charismatic, while others seem to be the polar opposite and are shy, withdrawn, and reserved? Now some scientists are suggesting that your personality might be partly controlled by your genes as much as your environment.

The new study looked at data on 1,100 twins, some identical and others fraternal. James H. Fowler, an associate professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, and lead author of the research project, said of the study, "We've identified some, and we're waiting for further tests for verification." Fowler further commented, “The new insights won't help turn a wallflower to a social butterfly. Genetic engineering is very difficult, but mostly because social behavior stems from the interplay of genetics and upbringing.”

One’s personality certainly affects life on almost every imaginable front. It can be a great asset to some and a severe handicap for others, depending on how individual tendencies are allowed to affect the outlook on life and on what things are pursued or avoided. People are known to others as much for their personalities, perhaps, more than for any other feature.

With that considered, how important is the personality of any given individual? While it may have bearing on the overall popularity with his or her peers, it has no real relevance to the God who is the author of all life. Scripture repeatedly states this fact. Paul addressed it in Romans 2:11. "For there is no respect of persons with God.” Then Peter does the same in 1 Peter 1:17. “And if you call on the Father, who without respect of persons judges according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear.” He again mentions the issue in Acts 10:34. “Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, "Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons.”

Then, too, there is the episode seen in 1 Samuel 16:1-7 where David is anointed king. The Lord had been conveying to Samuel the right qualifications for the one who would lead the nation. Samuel was keying in on external qualifications and characteristics. But God made it clear as to true priority is verse 7. “But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."

There is no doubt that one’s personality, economic status, and physical traits can at times have impact on the choices that are made and the life that is lived. But in God’s eyes, these things are of no value on any level that matters.

But He does expect certain things, regardless of whatever personalities His people may possess or what life they live. First, He expects inner joy despite outward circumstances. “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” (James 1:2-3) Then also God expects service to His own to display a loving attitude, cheerful spirit, and a serious use of whatever gift, or gifts, He has imparted.

“And above all things have fervent love for one another, for love will cover a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." (1 Peter 4:8-10)

Your personality may, or may not, make you popular around those with whom you have regular contact. And few things can make you less popular than speaking out and sharing the love of Jesus Christ. But popularity on the human level is overrated. It is fragile, fleeting and often phony. What counts most is being popular with God and God’s people and for all the right reasons. This is what brings true and lasting value along with the real potential for absolute peace and satisfaction about who you are in Christ!

Why Aren’t You More Popular? Perhaps that initial question should be rephrased to ask, Who are you more popular with – and why?

Bill Breckenridge