Monday, August 31, 2009

An Affordable Health Care Plan

Health care tensions have disturbed the country through legislative discussion and in countless turbulent town hall confrontations. Senator Ted Kennedy’s passing has energized proponents of health care by encouraging a sympathy vote if and when congress decides on a vote.

Aside from the furor over whether or not national health care is a giant step toward socialism, common sense decisions could lead to better health and dramatically lower medical costs. Medical analysts frankly state that smoking is the greatest preventable cause of ill health in America. Recent reports now indicate that excessive caffeine and alcohol consumption rank high in health risks. Heart patients can greatly benefit from regular exercise, which can provide as much aid as surgery. Homosexual lifestyles have spread horrendous diseases, sickening and killing millions and draining health care dollars.

Inexpensive and easily performed routines or disciplines could save millions of dollars and countless lives. Ounces of prevention could avoid pounds of cure. Why not spend a few thousand dollars quizzing healthy people about their lifestyles rather than mindlessly spending millions on treating sick people? It’s as one said, “Instead of slapping mosquitoes, let’s drain the pond.” Someone else once said, “It is better to build fences at the top of the cliff than hospitals at the bottom.”

The best preventives are the God-given Scriptural principles of health and well being. Proverbs 3:5 & 6 are often quoted in reference to receiving guidance in life. “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.” But the two verses following speak to the more immediate health issue. “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.”

According to Isaiah 58:8, spiritual revival and physical health are related. “…then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily…” National recovery from dreadful spiritual decline is offered in Jeremiah 30:17: “For I will restore health to you and heal you of your wounds, says the LORD….”

Years ago a young man came to me and said, “I was sick for twenty years. Recently I got right with God, and now I am well.” While not all sickness is linked with sin, many nervous and physical disorders are associated with poor judgment and deliberate iniquity. We reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7). Sowing good deeds and health habits plus avoiding sin or repenting of it is always the least expensive health plan.

And most important of all, the new birth in the Lord Jesus Christ, as outlined in John 3:3, 5 & 7, brings the all-wise Life Manager into one’s life, and through the Holy Spirit’s perception, we gain eternal perspective and temporal discernment.

Psalm 19:7-11 clarifies it precisely:

“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.”

Dave Virkler

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The First Repaired Tongue?

It has never been attempted before. But a man in Madrid, Spain has had the first ever tongue and lower jaw transplant.

The 43-year old patient had lost the lower portion of his face due to treatment 11 years earlier from a malignant tumor. The replacement was actually part of a full face transplant. The patient should recover the capacity to speak intelligibly, to swallow, and recover sensitivity in his tongue and his face according to the surgeon who performed the delicate operation.

In the New Testament wisdom book of James, the writer speaks forcefully and at length about the negative effects of a defective tongue. But the tongue referred to there is not the physical organ. It is rather speaking to the words that spew forth from the mouth, frequently containing all manner of vicious and hurtful words.

Beginning in verse 5 of chapter 3, the writer describes in vivid detail the power of words and their massive potential for evil. James records, “See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” He not only shares the destructive potential of man’s tongue but how very difficult it is to prevent or harness its attacks.

Then, too, the seriousness of supposedly worshipping God while directing evil toward others is addressed. “With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.” (James 3:9-10)

For any who might still wonder how God feels about the quality of the words that exit the mouth need only to consult the Old Testament's wisdom book. Proverbs chapter six makes it abundantly and brutally clear. “These six things the LORD hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him: a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren.” (Proverbs 6:16-19) A careful consideration of the 7 things that God actually ‘hates’ shows that almost half of the list has to do with using words in some negative way.

While the bulk of teaching on the tongue is found in James chapter three, there is also a brief reference that precedes it back in chapter one. Verse 26-27 read this way. “If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one's religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”

The writer presents there how one’s personal ‘religion’ is simple hypocrisy if the words he or she utters are too false, too negative, or too nasty. The passage reveals that all such activity invalidates any religious exterior or claims. He goes on to reveal what ‘true religion’ really is – namely, involvement in good works (Ephesians 2:10) and progressive sanctification (1 Peter 1:15-16)

The Bible indicates in Philippians 2:11 that someday all will use their tongue to acknowledge who Jesus really is – whether they like it or not, or know Him or not. But for the Christian, Psalm 71:23-24 teaches the proper pattern and the primary purpose for the words that exit their lips.

“My lips shall greatly rejoice when I sing to You, and my soul, which You have redeemed. My tongue also shall talk of Your righteousness all the day long.”

Receiving a new tongue should be the normal result of receiving a new heart in Jesus Christ!

Bill Breckenridge

The "Last Column”

The anniversary of 911 is just weeks away. And with that in mind, what has become known as the ‘Last Column’ was returned to the historic site on August 24th. Column No. 1,0001 B of 2 World Trade Center, the last standing column to be taken down, will become part of the National Sept. 11 Memorial & Museum.

The 58 ton, 36 foot tall beam had been a makeshift memorial to the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks and was being stored at a hangar at Kennedy Memorial Airport for seven years. But now it has been brought home to be the centerpiece of the memorial and the official symbol of ‘rebirth’ in contrast to the infamous day of death.

The new tribute to the victims of 911 is welcomed and beyond appropriate – especially for those brave souls who rushed into burning building to help others and thereby perished themselves. But no symbol of ‘rebirth’ or worthy memorial can bring any of them back. They cannot ever be reborn and gain back their lives and futures once they were cruelly snuffed out. But as difficult and permanent as that painful reality is, there is a more crucial form of rebirth that is possible for any and all men to achieve.

In John chapter three Jesus was seen in a theological discussion with a Pharisee – one of the elite religious leaders of that day. At one point their conversation led God’s Son to startle Nicodemus concerning the reality and the requirement of a new spiritual birth. Verses 1-2 describe the occasion. “There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him." But from there Jesus suddenly got to the core of the matter in verse 3. “Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." This same term is used again in 1 Peter where the Apostle writes, “having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever.” (1 Peter 1:23)

What Nicodemus missed about salvation is the same exact thing that scores have still misread ever since. John wrote plainly about the qualification for redemption, recording Jesus’ words in 3:16. “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." Then too, Paul adds his own Holy Spirit directed explanation in the third chapter of his letter to the church at Rome. “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." (Romans 3:24-25)

“Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” (Romans 3:28) The nation, and the entire world, looked on in horror at the vicious tragedy that was 911. As the death toll mounted, a nation grieved for the brutal unexpected loss of fellow citizens, family, and friends.

But those who had been justified by Christ, and were walking closely with Him, had additional thoughts amidst the horror of that day. First, they were wondering and worrying about the fate of those who perished in the towers who had never been born again nor ready to face God. And at the same time, they we in serious prayer for the survivors and thanking their merciful Savior for those who were fully forgiven through faith and thereby fully ready for the next life.

“And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:11-13)

Bill Breckenridge

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Brand New Reality

For reality show contestant Ryan Jenkins, what is ‘real’ and what is not has taken on a whole new dimension – literally.

Police had been hunting Ryan for days as he evaded authorities across California and into Canada. He was sought in the death of his ex-wife model in what can only be described as a horrifically brutal slaying. The chase ended in a motel room in a mountainous area of British Columbia when the Royal Canadian Police found the fugitive’s body in the room – a likely case of suicide by hanging.

Although Ryan Jenkins act was particularly heinous, the reality is that all sin, even those not humanly comparable to be mentioned in the same breath, still causes separation from God. Roman 3:23 clearly teaches, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Earlier in the same chapter, and beginning in verse 10, the issue is presented even more graphically. “As it is written: "There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one.”

A crime of this caliber would certainly seem to be in a different category of judgement, and ultimately may be. But Romans chapter one reminds those who feel their sins to be minor in comparison, to remain repentant and humble. Verse 18 reads, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” All means all!

Some may question God’s justice or His right to forgive the more vile sins. And while He cannot accept any who reject His free offer of redemption, those who come to him in faith, need not wonder if their actions have crossed the line and somehow disqualified them from salvation.

1 Corinthian 6:9-11 covers both issues well. “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you . But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” Simply put, His grace can cleanse even the most grievous sin.

Ryan Jenkins has entered eternity. He is forever now in the presence of a loving Savior or in an intensely real place of eternal suffering. (2. Corinthians 5:8, Luke 12:5) And in reality, for this man as well as for all mankind, all that matters is the decision he made - or didn't make - for Christ.

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Man Who Shot John Lennon

Recently, I made my third visit to a very high profile prison inmate. Why do I have an interest in this prisoner? Several years ago, we received a letter in response to our broadcast, “The Word And The World”, which aired at the time over WWOG in Rochester, NY. The postmark was from Attica, NY. Examination of the signature brought the surprise that the letter came from Mark David Chapman, who was in Attica Correctional Facility for the murder of rock icon John Lennon in New York City in 1980.

We answered Chapman’s letter, and a correspondence friendship developed that resulted in several visits to Attica by me and Bill Breckenridge, who is our ministry’s Media Manager and who also contributes to this blog.

I was the speaker last week at Odosagih Bible Conference, which is only about 45 miles away from Attica, so last Wednesday, August 12, I went to see Mark. I arrived at Attica about 1:00 PM for my visit. Before I even went in, I helped jump-start the car of a mother who had come in the morning fog and left her lights on and had a dead battery.

Entrance was easier this time than other visits. I had only one form to fill out because I was already on Chapman’s visitation list. I showed my ID, took off my shoes and finally made it through the metal detector the third time since I had forgotten about my belt buckle and my watch the first two times. I put my shoes back on and then went through two iron gates and crossed a wide inner area to another building where I went through two more iron gates (and had to show ID each time) into yet another building, which turned out to be the wrong one, and then went back through the two iron gates to get back out.

Then I was taken through a chain link fence gate into an area of the prison where high profile inmates are housed for their own protection, and I again had to show ID. Then I was led through a couple more iron gates and into a waiting room with three caged visitation areas off to the side. There was another small visitation room on the right where I would meet Mark. I was locked into this small oblong room that had a black floor-to-ceiling cage about 4’ x 4’ at the far end. A long table just wide enough to reach across and join hands went from the doorway to the wall in front of the cage.

I waited for ten to fifteen minutes. Looking around, I noticed a camera near the ceiling and also note on the wall about a microphone, so I assumed everything was being carefully monitored. I wasn’t allowed to bring a Bible or anything else except for a plastic pen and some paper, and I scribbled some questions while I waited for Mark.

At length, Mark came through the rear door, and we warmly greeted each other. He is doing well and rejoicing in the Lord. Our conversation ranged far and wide.

Mark told me that he lives in a cell that he estimated is about 6’ x 8’. He is awakened at 6:30 each morning and works 12 hours a day, seven days a week, in the prison library and kitchen. He has to make up for any work time lost due to visits. Few people come to see Mark, and he is not giving interviews to any media people as this is his current leading from the Lord. He can have a radio but no Internet access.

We talked about many things that Mark requested I not share on our radio broadcast or here. When I asked him what I should tell my audiences from him, he simply said, “Know Jesus.”

Addtionally, he would like people to know that he and his wife Gloria, who resides in Hawaii, are hoping for funding to get his printed testimony, “The Man Who Shot John Lennon,” shipped to many prison ministries for distribution around the world. (You can request a copy from us if you would like to read it.)

Mark is deeply spiritual, deeply repentant for his actions, concerned about evangelism, willing to stay in prison for the rest of his life and willing to be whatever God wants him to be. He and I prayed together several times, joining hands across the table. He prayed for me, my family and ministry. I prayed for him, his spiritual life, his wife and his literature outreach.

Before being led back out though all those gates at 2:30 PM, I asked Mark to review an interview he did with Larry King back on Sept. 30, 2000. I asked Mark to share the story with me once more, and he did.

Through King’s friendship with then-NY governor Mario Cuomo, he was able to get a live interview with Chapman and sent his crew into Attica. Mark sat in a darkened room with nothing but the camera lens pointed at his face. King could see Mark, but Mark could not see King.

In the interview, Chapman told Larry King, “I became a Christian when I was 16, Larry, and that lasted about a year of genuine walking with Him. Through my life, off and on, I have struggled with different things, as we all do, and at those times I would turn to the Lord. The night of the death of John Lennon I was far from Him. I wasn’t listening to Him. I wasn’t reading the Bible anymore.

“Today I’m different. I read the Bible. I pray, and I walk with Him. He forgives me. He doesn’t condone what I did—and that’s a very important thing—He didn’t like what I did 12 years ago. He didn’t like all the pain I caused everybody, especially John’s widow. But He forgives me and He hears me and He listens to me, and He is the one, all these years, that has brought me out of the abyss, not medications or counseling. I, basically, had to counsel myself through these years, not that it’s not available here, but I’ve been very private about this. This is not anything that’s easy to live with.”

As I listened to the interview back in 2000, I was stunned by King’s next question. The instant retort by Chapman surprised me, and I thought it might have been rehearsed. Larry King asked Mark how he knew it wasn’t a crutch, and his response was:

“Well, in a way, it’s got to be a crutch, because we all need a crutch. Life is not easy and life, for me, isn’t easy. And, therefore, I think the Lord has a tender spot in His heart for prisoners. He said so. The rest of the Bible says so in many different places. And I’ve leaned on Him—if it’s a crutch, I've been leaning on a crutch, but it’s a crutch made out of the cross, because without that I probably wouldn’t be alive today because I was very suicidal and I certainly wouldn’t be in a well state of mind, not without Him.”

Mark told me that seconds before Larry King asked that awkward question, his gaze was diverted momentarily. Out of the corner of his eye in the darkness, he saw a fleeting vision of a crippled man walking down a lonely road with a cross under his armpit in the form of a crutch. He looked back into the camera and answered Larry’s question.

Our wonderful crutch of salvation is indeed formed by the cross. “The old rugged cross, so despised by the world has a wondrous attraction for me…” It’s the message I preached last week 14 times in six days in two Bible conferences. “In the cross of Christ I glory, towering o’er the wrecks of time….” “At the cross, at the cross where I first say the light, and the burden of my heart rolled away….”

Driving away from Attica is a sobering experience. When I left, I said to myself, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Salvation is just as needed inside the prison or outside the prison, for Mark David Chapman and for David Mark Virkler.

Dave Virkler

Monday, August 17, 2009

Real Death Panels?

Some called it a political ‘scare tactic’ while others claim it as inevitable if the new health reform bill goes through as proposed.

The term is known as a ‘Death Panel'. It is a concept that refers to the horrific decisions that some claim would be made at some point, by someone, on life-sustaining care if health care were to ever be rationed. It also is tied to the so-called ‘end-of-life’ provision in the President’s package unless that aspect is dropped due to mounting pressure from those who oppose the plan. Human services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said of the concept that it’s a “horrific” twisting of facts to say that “Death Panels” would be part of Obama’s proposed health care overhaul. She called the whole idea a simple ‘scare tactic’ by the political opposition.

Any fear of some outsider controlling matters of life and death is understandable. Few would be comfortable with an impersonal entity making crucial judgements on life’s most serious issue. And while most all are quite concerned with this staggering physical decision, only a select few ever seriously consider that there are ‘scare tactics’ in the Bible pertaining to spiritual and physical death. And yet the vast majority seem unwilling to respond to God’s loving ‘end of life’ provision given along side of the clear and intentional ‘scare tactics’ found throughout His word.

In his great doctrinal thesis to the church at Rome, the Apostle Paul presents God’s intentional words to instill fear and awaken those who have not yet been redeemed and who remain outside of His faith family. Romans 1:18 warns, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” Then in chapter 2 the warning is repeated. “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)

Then Jesus Himself added in Matthew 10:28-29. “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” His descriptive words in Mark 9:45-46 should likewise intimidate any lost sinner - at least those who really care about the results of sin and where they may reside in eternity. “And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched.” If these are not words meant to educate and even cause the ultimate fear, then what are they for?

The Bible gives more than adequate warning of terrible judgement and great reason to be scared. But it also provides the ultimate solution in Jesus Christ. The same Paul who penned the scary scenarios in the early chapters of Romans, then shares the pathway to peace later in chapter 5. He writes in verses 9-10, “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”

In the spiritual realm there is a literal “Death Panel” comprised of one. Jesus Christ is referred to in Acts 10:42 as, “Judge of the living and the dead.” He will someday deal justly with those who have rejected His free offer of salvation. But this same judge of all is the author of life. His priority is to have all embrace His miraculous ‘end-of-life’ provision of faith, forgiveness and fellowship with Him forever.

Bill Breckenridge

Monday, August 3, 2009

Rising Beach Pollution

“Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water.” That was a line associated with the classic film, ‘Jaws’, with the obvious reference to the dangers of swimming alongside sharks – the ocean’s most feared predators. But now, there is another fast-growing danger at the nation’s beaches.

A report by the Natural Resources Defense sites that 7% of the water sample gathered in 2008 violated current standards for healthy water. The report, compiled using data from the Environmental Protection Agency, looked at more than 6,000 beaches. Nancy Stoner, co-director of the council's water program stated in the 19th annual "Testing the Waters" report, "Pollution from dirty storm water runoff and sewage overflows continues to make its way to our Beaches." Stoner also stated, “Americans should not suffer the consequences of contaminated beach water from contracting the flu or pink eye, or jeopardizing millions of jobs and billions of dollars that rely on clean coasts.”

Pollution is becoming a fact of modern life and is far from being limited to the water supply. Pollution can come in a variety of forms including air, soil, noise and even light. Then there are the disastrous results seen when a major oil spill occurs. All of the above contributes the raging battle over the environment as represented primarily in the global warming issue. Some feel the planet is in horrific danger and literally at the point of no return. Others believe the earth is capable of regenerating itself and that the alarm is mostly hype and that earth it is going through a typical phase as is normal over time.

Either way, few would disagree that pollution is unacceptable and that the preference is that the earth’s precious resources remain clean and plentiful. But there is another type of pollution that few are even aware of even though it poses the greatest threat to mankind imaginable. Paul the Apostle, quoting from Psalm 14 and 53, describes the scope and effects of this most dreadful and comprehensive form of contamination. In Romans chapter three and beginning in verse 10 he writes;

"As it is written:"There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one." "Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit"; "The poison of asps is under their lips"; "Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness." "Their feet are swift to shed blood; Destruction and misery are in their ways; And the way of peace they have not known." "There is no fear of God before their eyes."

Back in the 18th verse of the first chapter of the Apostle’s great doctrinal masterpiece he shares the result of a heart fully tarnished by sin. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” A few chapters later he gets right to the heart of that matter stating in no uncertain terms, “For the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) This brief phrase represents far more than the casual eye might see. Left unchecked by saving faith, man’s dreadful condition leads to certain eternal death and a level of suffering that is simply beyond all human comprehension. But most fortunately for a hopeless and helpless race, the second half of verse 23 offers the ultimate ‘solution to pollution’ - at least for the spiritual strain. Paul makes an abrupt 180 degree turn there and declares with great confidence, “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The sentence, “Just when you thought it was safe to go into …whatever” can be more than sarcastic words of doubt meaning 'don’t even think about proceeding any further'. In Christ, the pollution of human sin, and the wrath that accompanies it, can be cleansed instantly and permanently. It requires only a true acceptance of the redemptive offer of the Savior coupled with the sincere humble attitude of the Psalmist. (Psalm 51:7, 10 and 12)

"Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit."

William Breckenridge