Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Retreat or Advance?

Some call it a ‘retreat’. Others prefer to use the term ‘advance’ In reality, it was both!

This past weekend I, along with my wife, my daughter and her husband led a church youth retreat/advance 3 hours into the mountains of Pennsylvania. Our destination landed us at the Montrose Bible Conference in the little town of Montrose itself. The ministry has been there seemingly forever. It has seen some of the great giants of the Christian faith pass through, ever since R.A. Torrey founded it just over a century ago.

Little did I know how many details and how much planning was involved in taking 27 kids on an outing such as this. The health, medication, and food allergy issues alone were nearly a full-time job for my daughter, who thankfully is studying to become a nurse. But I do know now, beyond any shadow of doubt, that the trip was God’s will and was jam-packed with miracles from start to finish.

For example, the compact bus we had contracted when the group was a bit smaller became totally insufficient for the entire crew and their luggage. As a result, our bus company upgraded us to a beautiful, modern 49-passenger bus at no extra charge! God must have wanted certain kids on board and made sure they had a way to get there – and in style no less!

Another miracle was the weather. To drum up interest for the retreat there was the promise of several hours of paint ball. The boys all went berserk when first hearing that was part of the trip. Some of the girls were not so sure. But eventually they one by one came alongside – their fears and doubts notwithstanding. But the gloomy forecast never really interfered. The rain that did come seemed to fall just between activities – including our half-mile walks back and forth for meals! On Saturday, we walked the one half mile to supper in the sun, ate during a downpour, and walked back to blue sky. A coincidence? I think not!

Then there was the miracle of a ‘technology-free’ weekend. Now that may not sound miraculous, but it very much fits my definition when considering the array of electronic gadgetry permanently engrafted to the ears of most teens today. This was not an easy concept or sacrifice for many of them to swallow at first. Several would have rather skipped food and water for 2 days more, but eventually they gave in and sanity won out.As mentioned, the entire weekend was miraculous and could not have gone much better. The food was outstanding, the kids well-behaved, and the schedule flawless. Plus nobody was seriously hurt – with the exceptions of a few expected paintball welts and a rash or two from poison ivy.

But the miracle that mattered most was all about the spiritual impact - hopefully something with lasting and life-altering results. Being out in God’s gorgeous creation with no texting, cell phones, Facebooks, or ipods was absolutely essential. The quiet and lack of external distractions was something many of today’s kids seldom experience. Over the 3 days the kids discovered that they really could survive without cell phones acting as their personal pacemakers.

Yes, the retreat environment was radically different. When we neared home my daughter, upon looking at the rush hour traffic, maze of stores, and frantic people rushing everywhere said, “This here all seems so artificial”. That was exactly why being isolated at Montrose allowed leaders and campers alike to fully focus on our theme of “Looking unto Jesus” from Hebrews 12:1-2. We spent two full days in those two amazing verses alone, and many of the kids there have never seen what an in-depth study of Scripture can reveal.

Much more could be said about the miraculous weekend. There were the new friendships, the teamwork, the bonding, the constant laughter, the live music, and of course the times of prayer and serious spiritual reflection. Then, too, there was the ultimate challenge of fully quieting a group of fully wired kids at lights out! But our lasting prayer is that each will look back on the event with great fondness but more importantly ‘look unto Jesus’ in a new and fresh way!

To do that we devised an acrostic. The word ‘SOAP” was employed as a method and challenge for getting them each to make an ‘appointment’ to see Jesus every day. The S stood for ‘Scripture’. The O stood for ‘observation’. The A stood for ‘application’. And the P was for ‘prayer’. Our priority was to help the kids gain a godly defense against a godless culture saturated with unimaginable temptations and pitfalls. We actually gave a bar of Dial soap out on the bus as a reminder and motivator just before we arrived home. ‘SOAP’ was to become the secret post-retreat weapon and a way to fulfill Psalm 119:9: “How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word.” Just as physical soap removes physical dirt, God’s ‘SOAP’ can tackle the sin that can so easily infiltrate, tarnish, and destroy the heart.

Again, it was a weekend of miracles. Perhaps even the miracle of salvation was in the mix. But we pray that, long after the paintball bruises heal and the memories fade, that ‘SOAP’ will continue to do its job. We pray that it will continue to deal with temptation, cleanse from sin and heal young hearts as they look unto Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith.”

It was a physical retreat. And more importantly, it was a spiritual advance!

Bill Breckenridge

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Saved at Alcatraz

Saturday, May 23 marks the 75th anniversary of the end of a crime spree that left several dead and, amazingly, one accomplice heading for Heaven via jail time at Alcatraz.

Floyd Hamilton is one of 36 men who attempted to escape from Alcatraz, the famed prison known as "The Rock". He and three other prisoners attempted the feat in 1943 by jumping out of a window into the water 50 feet below. One died in a hail of bullets, and two were quickly captured. Hamilton hid in a shoreline cave for three days before climbing up the cliff and back into the window. He hid briefly and was then taken back into custody.

Floyd’s story began with infamous Bonnie and Clyde, the outlaw couple whose crime spree killed seven police officers and ended in a hail of police bullets on a lonely road near Gibsland, Louisiana on May 23, 1934. The May issue of Smithsonian magazine has a commemorative article on Bonnie and Clyde. Our local paper noted that there is still a Bonnie and Clyde museum in Gibsland, Louisiana.

Floyd had helped the criminals, and he and his brother, Raymond, who was part of the couples’ gang, escaped the police ambush. Both were later captured. Once called Public Enemy #1 because of his own crimes, Floyd ended up in Alcatraz in a cell next to "The Birdman of Alcatraz." He was alone in a cell for a year wearing only undershorts, and he often heard prisoners going crazy in the night.

But Floyd’s Christian mother and preacher sister wrote him letters explaining the Gospel. Famous Texas preacher W.A. Criswell visited Floyd at Alcatraz and led him to a saving knowledge of Christ. His life changed so dramatically that he was miraculously favored by the prison management. He was finally released from prison after transfer to Leavenworth.

While imprisoned, his two children died as did his sister, who herself left two small children. After his release, Floyd remarried his wife who had previously divorced him, and they took his sister’s children to raise. He became a minister to prisoners and former prisoners. In a letter he wrote to a an ex-con in 1980, Floyd referred to his association with Charles Colson of Prison Fellowship. He also noted that he had become vice president of International Prison Ministry and that he would serve free of charge. Hamilton went to be with the Lord in 1983.

As I searched our radio broadcast archives for a special 45th anniversary collection, I discovered a long-forgotten interview I did with Floyd Hamilton. I am honored to have personally interviewed him in 1975, just eight years before his Homegoing, and doubly honored to share his testimony on "The Word And The World" the weekend of May 23, 2009. (Click here for a list of stations that air our broadcast. You can also hear the Floyd Hamilton interview at our website or at Oneplace.com as of Monday, May 25.)

Floyd Hamilton’s story is reflected in the words of a great old Gospel song, "He Ransomed Me," by Julia Johnson:

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.

From the depth of sin and sadness
To the heights of joy and gladness
Jesus lifted me, in mercy full and free;
With His precious blood He bought me,
When I knew Him not, He sought me,
And in love divine He ransomed me.

From the throne of heav’nly glory—
Oh, the sweet and blessed story!—
Jesus came to lift the lost in sin and woe
Into liberty all-glorious,
Trophies of His grace victorious,
Evermore rejoicing here below.

By and by, with joy increasing,
And with gratitude unceasing,
Lifted up with Christ forevermore to be,
I will join the hosts there singing,
In the anthem ever ringing,
To the King of Love who ransomed me.

Refrain: 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.

Dave Virkler

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tornado Hunters Roam The Plains

Their job is mostly total boredom, followed by occasional moments of pure excitement and terror.

They are storm chasers and they are out in force for the current tornado season.

Vortex2 is traveling across the Great Plains until June 13 in search of nature’s most violent storms. It is part of the largest-ever project to seek the storms that arise so suddenly and destroy so completely. The massive convoy is comprised of 40 vehicles carrying some 80 scientists and crew members. Their goal is simple. They hope to learn more about the 1,000 tornadoes that occur annually in the U.S. and thereby increase the current warning time given those in their devastating path.

The very thought of looking for trouble, especially the life-threatening sort, is not something the average person can even relate to. Life brings enough difficulties without intentionally seeking more. But trouble does find all at some point – and some more than others. The Old Testament figure Job, who experienced more hardship than most, wrote about this universal truth in chapter 5 of his book. He states in verse 7, “Yet man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward.”

Peter also confirms the certainty of trouble and includes the source of a great deal of it. “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) And even Jesus himself shared how trials and troubles need not be sought out but will come with some regularity. In Matthew 6:34 He stated, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” In a fallen and sinful world trouble is ‘standard equipment’. Ask anyone!

The goal of the Vortex2 storm chasers is to seek out storms and help prepare residents for the onslaught of something physically and materially dangerous and life-threatening. But it would be interesting to know if any in that worthwhile line of work ever realize any of the spiritual comparisons and ramifications of what they do?

For instance, the Old Testament prophet wrote, “The LORD has His way In the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of His feet.” (Nahum 1:3) And it would be interesting to know if any ever associate the chasing the illusive storms with Jesus’ description of the Christian believer? In John 3:7-8 the Lord declared, “Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit."

But most importantly, hopefully those who chase after storms, and those often targeted by them, will make the same association as did David in Psalm 83. Hopefully the power and majesty of these great funnels of terror will act as a vivid reminder that life is fragile, that there is an omnipotent Creator who controls the universe, and that He is worthy of worship and is the author of the salvation for the repentant sinner.

“O my God, make them like the whirling dust, Like the chaff before the wind! As the fire burns the woods, And as the flame sets the mountains on fire, So pursue them with Your tempest, And frighten them with Your storm. Fill their faces with shame, That they may seek Your name, O LORD.” (Ps 83:13-16)

Bill Breckenridge

Monday, May 18, 2009

Good News

So much sad and depressing news reaches our eyes and ears. We need something upbeat for balance. Here are some recent good news items:

Donald Trump, owner of the Miss USA pageant, stood and defended Miss California, Carrie Prejean, who was first runner-up in this year’s competition. Trump even went so far as to suggest that the very low vote of Perez Hilton, Prejean’s homosexual antagonist over her
support of marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman, may have kept her from being first in the competition. Trump’s solid support of Prejean may have been a factor in the resignation the next day of the woman in charge of California’s state pageant. It turns out she is something of a gay activist. Prejean is an outspoken believer is Christ and unashamed of biblical marriage as God’s norm. Chalk one up for the biblical Christianity, inadvertently supported by Donald Trump.

Then there is the encouraging statistic that for the first time a slight majority of Americans are pro-life, and a commensurate percentage has moved away from pro-choice, which is pro-death. Mike Huckabee pointed out on a talk show that the shift is significantly among younger women. This signals a continuing move in the moral direction that preferential killing of the unborn is tragically snuffing out those created in God’s image.

Further, the mounting protests over President Obama speaking at Notre Dame, a Catholic university whose parent church is vehemently opposed to abortion, shows that the pro-life factions of our society are indeed alive and well. Usually, politicians and courts lag behind the electorate. I hope this is another instance where the politicians and court catch up before God’s judgment falls for ignoring the basic God-given rights of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

And third, I hope the faint glimmer of returning financial sanity that was heard from President Obama brightens into a streaming shaft of light. Speaking at Arizona State University, he warned that we will not be able to repay the huge debt in coming generations because of mounting interest and possible inability to borrow more money from countries skeptical of our repayment ability. Huckabee also commented on the President’s remarks in Arizona and noted that he hopes the President comes home to Washington and also says that there. We hope so, too. If he does, it may signal a return to sanity in Washington politics which has been absent too long.

Dave Virkler

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Presidential Prayer Proclamation

Last week’s National Day of Prayer was marred by the absent actions of President Obama. Planners of this 58th National Day of Prayer sought in vain for a Presidential Proclamation prior to the thousands of Prayer Day events. I had the privilege of conducting the service at our local municipal building. I checked the White House website regularly so I could print out and read the President’s proclamation. It wasn’t available prior to the service, so I used a proclamation issued by Abraham Lincoln many years ago. President Obama’s proclamation was eventually posted on the Day of Prayer, but only after many plans had already been laid.

U.S. law says that the President must issue a yearly proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as the National Day of Prayer. Harry Truman signed the law in 1952, and Ronald Reagan amended it designating the first Thursday in May. So the issuing of a proclamation goes beyond personal preference; it is imbedded in U.S. law.

The proclamation had been preceded by rather poor and unacceptable excuses for the President’s lack of public participation. "He will issue a proclamation, but there will be no White House service." "The President prays privately." Perhaps Obama’s reticence stems from a desire to reverse all things Bush, who held a White House prayer service each year. However, President Clinton usually issued his proclamations well ahead of time, so this spiritual slippage cuts across party lines. It is also troubling that Obama specifically mentioned those who choose not to worship in his proclamation. Perhaps this was to quiet some who had criticized him for making the proclamation at all.

The President’s tardiness did not set well with those who are uneasy about the spiritual tone of the country generally and the lack of spiritual fervor specifically of our national politicians. In times of previous national stress, notable interfaith prayer services abounded, but now, in our hour of financial agony, the President seemed to only grudgingly keep the law on proclaiming a national day of prayer.

This troubling issue should increase believers’ prayer enthusiasm. If the President is shaky on prayer, then he really truly needs our prayers. He needs a spiritual dimension in these times of dismal domestic dilemmas and international chaos in order to cope from day to day. We need a recommitment to I Timothy 2:1 & 2 to pray for all in authority, of which Obama has very much. He is manipulating trillions of dollars in horrendous national debt. He oversees national defense. He is about to nominate a U.S. Supreme Court justice. He is setting policy and giving national direction that will have an effect for many years to come.

It would have been good to have these words prior to May 7. But since we have them now, let’s have prayer as the President suggested. In case you missed it altogether, the full text of the President’s National Day of Prayer proclamation follows.

Dave Virkler


Throughout our Nation’s history, Americans have come together in moments of great challenge and uncertainty to humble themselves in prayer. In 1775, as the Continental Congress began the task of forging a new Nation, colonists were asked to observe a day of quiet humiliation and prayer. Almost a century later, as the flames of the Civil War burned from north to south, President Lincoln and the Congress once again asked the American people to pray as the fate of their Nation hung in the balance.

It is in that spirit of unity and reflection that we once again designate the first Thursday in May as the National Day of Prayer. Let us remember those who came before us, and let us each give thanks for the courage and compassion shown by so many in this country and around the world.

On this day of unity and prayer, let us also honor the service and sacrifice of the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. We celebrate their commitment to uphold our highest ideals, and we recognize that it is because of them that we continue to live in a Nation where people of all faiths can worship or not worship according to the dictates of their conscience.

Let us also use this day to come together in a moment of peace and good will. Our world grows smaller by the day, and our varied beliefs can bring us together to feed the hungry and comfort the afflicted; to make peace where there is strife; and to lift up those who have fallen on hard times. As we observe this day of prayer, we remember the one law that binds all great religions together: the Golden Rule, and its call to love one another; to understand one another; and to treat with dignity and respect those with whom we share a brief moment on this Earth.

The Congress, by Public Law 100-307, as amended, has called on the President to issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a "National Day of Prayer.

"NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim May 7, 2009, as a National Day of Prayer. I call upon Americans to pray in thanksgiving for our freedoms and blessings and to ask for God’s continued guidance, grace, and protection for this land that we love.

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

Hubble's Life Extended

It is a device that has witnessed and captured the handiwork of the Creator God – at least to those who believe one exists. It is the Hubble telescope, and its mechanical eyes have been gazing into the great expanse of the universe for some 19 years. But now, the famous scope is getting its final tune up, courtesy of several space walks from the space shuttle Atlantis. The upgrades will hopefully extend its life for another five or six years before it silently drifts away into the stars for good.

The Hubble has certainly seen more than its share of ‘vision issues’. But more recently it has recorded some astounding events, like the crashing of galaxies and the birth and death of the stars that make them up. Some also believe that the Hubble has actually helped pinpoint the age of the universe at 13.7 billion years and even shows where it is eventually headed.

The universe has always been a subject of great question and fascination whether it is 13 billion, or only 13 thousand, years old. And for those seeking the facts, its true origin, purpose, and destination are all clearly outlined in the Bible by the Creator who authored both. Again, it's all there for all who care to see clearly what it's all about.

The origin of the physical universe itself could not be more clearly stated than it is in Genesis chapter one.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)

The eventual destination of the physical universe could likewise not be more clearly revealed than in 2 Peter chapter three.

“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.” (2 Peter 3:10-13)

The plight of those having a wrong response to the obvious majesty of the physical creation is seen in Paul’s letter to the Romans.

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)

Then, too, the Scriptures are unmistakably clear about the right course of action for Christians, considering the soon-coming demise of the physical universe.

“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, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? “(2Peter 3:11)

Those in God’s family of faith do not need some sophisticated scientific marvel to explain the origin, mechanics, or destination of their material world and universe. It’s all spelled out in God’s supernatural word. And only those in spiritual harmony with their Creator can grasp the reality of the problems and direction of the universe. Romans 8:21-24 puts it this way. “For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.”

But of far greater importance is that only those in God’s family by faith in Jesus Christ can understand and experience the restoration that leads to the all new creation described in 2 Corinthians 5:16-17. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

There is one old creation that is sick and fading away. But scores of ‘new creations’ made in God’s own image will live in His glorious presence for all eternity!

Bill Breckenridge

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Pope Calls for a Palestinian State

While visiting Israel on his Middle East tour, Pope Benedict XVI suggested that implementation of a Palestinian State should come soon. His comment was met with the customary caution or outright objection of Israeli leaders who refuse this plan until law, order and respect for the existing Israeli State can be guaranteed.

One of the most tangled issues of the modern world eludes solution because of misunderstood history and ignorance of the prophetic Scriptures.

There has never been a "Palestinian people" of ethnic or religious solidarity. Palestinians, if they ever existed, would hark back to the Philistines of Old Testament Bible times. They occupied the general area we now call the Gaza Strip and also encompassed the geographic locales of the five Philistine cities listed in the Bible: Gaza, Gath, Ashdod, Ashkelon and Ekron. The names "Palestine" and "Palestinians" evidently derive from "Philistines." From the 1500s to 1917, the entire region was controlled by the Ottoman Empire, which was centered in Turkey and was the last vestige of Muslim dominance until its resurgence in our day.

As a settlement of World War I, which saw the Ottomans’ demise since they had sided with the Germans who were defeated by the British and French, Palestine came to be known as the area comprising all of modern Israel and Jordan. Various ethnic and religious groups (Arabs, Jews, Christians and Muslims, etc.) were scattered across the region, contradicting the notion of a "Palestinian" people, much less a nation.

From 1948, when a two-state settlement was offered to Jews and Arabs, Egypt occupied Gaza, Syria occupied Golan, and Jordan occupied the West Bank (Biblical Judea and Samaria). In the ’67 and ’73 wars, these areas were captured by Israel. Not one of the previous Arab occupiers ever remotely planned a Palestinian State anywhere. The current calls for a Palestinian State are based on the fantasy of a Palestinian people but are a desirable political whipping boy against Israel.

Will there be a Palestinian State despite all this? Yes. Should Israel presently have all the land God promised her in the Old Testament? No, not now.

In the original conquest of the Promised Land, Philistia was never under complete Israelite control (Judges 1-3) since they failed to completely drive out the inhabitants in disobedience to God’s command (Numbers 33:51 & 52). As a consequence, any Philistines not driven out by the time of Joshua’s death would be left to try Israel as Judges 2:21-23 clearly teaches.

Israel evacuated the Gaza strip area three years ago. Isaiah 11:14 predicts a Palestinian entity toward the end of prophetic time ("the shoulder of the Philistines"). Israel is predicted to retake the Gaza area in the future, probably when national repentance and acceptance of Christ at His return gives them full access to what they lost through disobedience. That great day of national restoration and deliverance is outlined in Zechariah 12-14.

Read these passages and read the newspapers, for the curtain is about to rise on these final prophetic dramas.

Dave Virkler

Soldier’s Bibles Destroyed

It’s official. The U.S. military has confirmed that they destroyed a stack of Bibles that were the personal property of a soldier serving at an Air Force base in Kabul. Maj. Jennifer Willis stated that the Bibles, written in the Pashto and Dari languages, were in fact eliminated and never distributed. The military supposedly forbids its members on active duty from trying to convert people to another religion. According to officials, the Bibles were sent through private mail to an evangelical Christian soldier by his church back home.

What the U.S. Military has done here is troubling on a variety of levels. Obviously there is no reason for causing any extra friction in a country that already has some armed conflict being waged on their own soil. But for the armed forces to muzzle the personal faith of its volunteers seems less than necessary. To allow weapons of war to fly while stifling words of faith seems somehow off base. An it seems odd to prevent a soldier from gently sharing a personal, private, and peaceful Christian testimony especially considering how those on the ‘other side’ are known for forcing conversions, outlawing opposing religions, and persecuting those who don’t adhere to their beliefs.

It would have been interesting to see what course of action would have occurred had it been a U.S. Muslim soldier receiving English versions of the Qur’an for personal use. And it can only be imagined what would have occurred if English versions of the Qur’an were confiscated or desecrated in any way, much less torn to pieces or burned. An invasion of religious privacy on that side of the spiritual aisle would be world news.

For a committed Christian believer in the U.S. military, there is more than one set of marching orders. Mark 16:15-16 summarizes the spiritual side. ”And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”

The logical extension for every disciple of Jesus Christ is to then attempt to reproduce others of his own spiritual kind. Paul shares how this is peacefully and effectively achieved. “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17) There is never any reference or reason for badgering, force, or threats – but rather a gentle sharing of the reality of the faith and the blessings it brings.

But what happens when earthly orders conflict with a direct initiative from heaven? Who has the upper hand? This exact thing took place during the early days of the church and is described at length in Acts 5. The apostles had been locked up for ‘filling Jerusalem with their doctrine’ – meaning their sharing the good news and teachings of Jesus Christ. But their words were as foreign and illogical to the Jewish populace back then as it might be to any Muslim living today. It was revolutionary, perhaps scary, and was largely ignored as 1 Corinthians 1:18-19 contends. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. “

But after being miraculously freed from their brief imprisonment, the apostles again began speaking out their faith. They were again arrested and again forbidden to speak about Christ. But this time around, when the order to cease came down, it was met with the uncompromising worlds in verse 29: “But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: "We ought to obey God rather than men.” It was settled. Christ’s followers would not be silenced despite even the most dire of earthly consequences. And some would ultimately suffer just that by forfeiting their lives for the propagation their precious new faith.

There is an eternal battle being waged today that is far greater than the current ‘war on terror’. Ironically it began in the Garden of Eden and right where American forces fight and die today. The duty of every U.S. soldier is to obey his superiors and fight in a fashion that meets his nation’s standards. And it is the duty of every Christian believer in the military to accept the call of his heavenly commander and blend his service in both realms together as best he or she can.

And perhaps it would serve the U.S. military better to realize the value of having Christian soldiers who are blessed with a unique dual role. And it might help, too, if those in authority would follow the pattern of a wise man named Gamaliel who recognized reality and his responsibility in that early confrontation of kingdoms.

“And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it — lest you even be found to fight against God." (Acts 5:38-39)

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

More Than a Proclamation

Thursday, May 7, is the 58th Annual National Day of Prayer. Evidently, President Obama attaches less significance to the day than most of his predecessors. As of Wednesday afternoon, there was nothing more than a promise to issue a proclamation. (Update: The President issued the proclamation on Thursday, May 7. It can be read at the White House website.)

Issuing a very late National Day of Prayer proclamation tends to disappoint those who count prayer an essential ingredient for our national continuance and success. Issuing any proclamation about the day upsets atheists and secularists who are upset that Obama would give any legitimacy to prayer whatsoever.

One atheist blogger charges him with abandoning his seeming move toward secularism as outlined in his inaugural speech. She compliments him for going to Turkey and proclaiming that America is not a Christian nation and points out his inconsistency in proclaiming a National Day of Prayer, if he does. She further bitterly denounces Days of Prayer noting that past praying had little effect. "We just came out of one of the darkest periods in this country’s history and the country is in a shambles."

Evidently, the spiritual culture wars are largely lost, with no visible efforts on the part of legislators to either inspire or participate in any concerted prayer effort in Washington or the state capitols. Some atheists and secularists use the day to proclaim and engage in a National Day of Reason to deliberately counter prayer efforts.

America is not suffering from too much prayer but too little. Prayer is more than asking for daily bread, it is pleading, "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory, forever, amen" (Matthew 6:13).

It is praying, as 1 Timothy 2:2-7 enjoins, "for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus,6 who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time…" The twofold purpose of this praying is not accumulating wealth but living in secure peaceful honor and enjoying freedom to share Christ.

Praying should also be penitential. "If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land" (II Chronicles 7:11).

The national woes we face from lust, greed and secular thinking are focused by Isaiah 1:4: "Alas, sinful nation, A people laden with iniquity, A brood of evildoers, Children who are corrupters! They have forsaken the LORD, They have provoked to anger The Holy one of Israel, They have turned away backward."

And we need the repentance of Isaiah 55:7: "Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the LORD, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon."

My hope is that the total trust of Ezra, returning to his homeland to reconstruct a wrecked nation, will be our prayer theme on this National Day of Prayer:

"Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him the right way for us and our little ones and all our possessions. For I was ashamed to request of the king an escort of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy on the road, because we had spoken to the king, saying, ‘The hand of our God is upon all those for good who seek Him, but His power and His wrath are against all those who forsake Him.’ So we fasted and entreated our God for this, and He answered our prayer." (Ezra 8:21-23 – emphasis mine)

Dave Virkler

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Was Lincoln Dying Before Assassination?

According to a new book by Cardiologist John Sotos, Abraham Lincoln’s days would have been short on earth even if he had not been gunned down at Ford’s Theatre. In “The Physical Lincoln”, the author suggests that the slain president, and other members of his family, had a rare genetic blood disorder – a cancer that would have eventually claimed their lives. Sotos is attempting to have DNA test performed on blood from a strip of Lincoln’s pillowcase now housed Grand Army of the Republic Museum and Library. So far, the testing has been denied, although that may change if additional questions on the proposed tests are answered appropriately.

John Sotos’ theory is interesting and may, or may not, be true. But it is undeniable that every man and woman ever born came complete with a blood-related disease that leads to certain physical death and, worse, eternal spiritual death, if not corrected. That tragic and universal illness is explained in Romans 5:12 which reads, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.” In short, all who have blood running through their physical veins also have the common disorder of sin flowing along with it.

In some ways, the subject of blood is the dominant theme in the Scriptures. The book of Leviticus reveals repeatedly the importance of blood in the Old Testament. In chapter seventeen we read, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.” (Leviticus 17:11) In the New Testament, the all-important role of blood is also substantiated by the writer of Hebrews. “And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission.” (Hebrews 9:22)

In His absolutely stunning plan of redemption, the omniscient Creator-God decided to use blood to cure the disease transmitted through the blood. But this time the blood of choice was not ordinary sin-stained blood or the animal blood used as a temporary fix in the Old Testament. Neither would work as neither were adequate. God’s ‘blood cure’ for the human condition is laid out 1 Peter 1:17-19. Verse 19 explains the uniqueness of the only blood that had the ability to deal with sin. “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.” Simply stated, only pure blood could purify human sin.

In Romans 3:23-25 the Apostle Paul relates the theological significance of the shedding of Christ’s blood. He uses two highly significant theological terms to make his point. Verse 24 begins, “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.” Justified means to be seen as though one had never sinned. And ‘propitiation’ comes from a Greek word that means merciful, or something that appeases or satisfies a requirement.

In summary, the sacrifice of Christ’s through the voluntary shedding of His sinless blood on the cross satisfied a holy God’s need for justice and judging sin. His wrath was, by design, taken out on His perfect Son as 2 Corinthians 5:21 explains. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” This nearly inconceivable act of love made Colossians 1:12-14 a reality to those who trust Jesus Christ alone for forgiveness and salvation. Verse twelve begins, “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.”

Whether or not Abraham Lincoln was physically dying at the moment of his death may be an interesting historical debate. But there is no question whatsoever that all are born spiritually dead and headed for an eventual physical demise from the moment of conception.

The only real issue of life and death therefore becomes the same for all - whether they be some famous world figure or some obscure person existing in some remote place. Has the precious and healing blood of Christ procured propitiation and justified them before a holy God, and fully opened the doors of heaven for all eternity?

Bill Breckenridge