Friday, December 31, 2010

Lessons from a Snowstorm

Snow is both friend and foe. Just as folks in the snow-assaulted northeast know after several feet of the white stuff clogged highways, stranded motorists and cancelled 4,200 airline flights nationally. But skiers reveled in the white blanket as resorts filled their coffers in chair lift, equipment rental and accommodations income.

After a similar storm last December, I wrote about the Treasures of the Snow. Read it here.

In 1856, Henry David Thoreau is reported to have written of snowflakes, “How full of the creative genius is the air in which these are generated! I should hardly admire more if real stars fell and lodged on my coat.”

Without directly affirming the Creator, Thoreau points to Him since the “creative genius” surely does reflect God’s amazing craftsmanship. The ultimate wisdom of antiquity is found in Job 38:22, “Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow? Or hast thou seen the treasures of the hail …”

Snow frequently symbolizes purity, a pristine gifting from above. After his twin heinous deeds of adultery and murder, David pled, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7).

This week, we revisited a spectacular local lawn display. Its makers left no Christmas theme unbuilt or unlit and spared no money to show it all during the Christmas season. Front and center was a manger scene complete with Mary, Joseph, shepherds and wise men. Behind the manger is a simple sign that reads, “The Reason For The Season.”

But the Christ child was not visible. The heavy snow had completely covered the infant in the manger, and there was only a mound of white! No one had cleared the snow away, nor perhaps should they. Christ was the very purity of heaven lying in that Bethlehem manger, and one day He would be stained blood red on the Cross so that I could be “whiter than snow.” Strange, isn’t it, how a brutal snowstorm can be a salvation lesson?

I thought again of hearing believers in the jungles of Mexico singing an old Gospel song:

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

Whiter than the snow, Whiter than the snow,
Wash me in the blood of the Lamb,
And I shall be whiter than snow.

None of these people had ever seen snow, but they knew Christ’s purifying forgiveness for their sins, and that is all they needed to know.

The real treasure of the snow and truth in its storm is the lesson of saving grace they bring.

Dave Virkler

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas and Freedom

Christmas is an observance that stretches all the way from commercial sales appeal to devoted family and church gatherings focused on the newborn King. However, the babe in a manger is but a warm sentiment when the world really needs a delivering Savior.

This season, I have received a number of letters and cards from prisoners who hear our radio broadcast and respond in gratitude.

One came from a prisoner in Trenton who referenced our broadcast about Mark David Chapman on the 30th anniversary of his murder of John Lennon. The prisoner wrote to thank us for our radio program and said he looks forward to hearing it. He also mentioned us helping to get the Gospel to every prison in America by aiding in the distribution of Chapman’s conversion story, and said that he would gladly pass it along to other inmates.

Earlier this week, a personal Christmas card came from Mark Chapman at Attica. He reported that “Project Chaplain” is going well with over 100 responses and counting, and he thanked us for our prayers. Some time ago, Mark personally shared with me his desire to place the story of redemption in all 4,000 U.S. prisons. That leaves only 3,500 to go!

Throughout history, people have been trapped in prisons other than actual incarceration. To those in prison or out, Christ announced his ministry purpose when he visited his hometown of Nazareth and read in the Temple, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19)

The old hymn of Charles Wesley, who also wrote “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing,” speaks of this.

He breaks the power of cancelled sin,
He sets the prisoner free.
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me.

Two rarely sung verses read,

Harlots and publicans and thieves
In holy triumph join!
Saved is the sinner that believes
From crimes as great as mine.

Murderers and all ye hellish crew
In holy triumph join!
Believe the Savior died for you;
For me the Savior died.

Many in Jesus’ day were prisoners other than those who were physically constrained.

Shepherds had been locked into a dismal and harsh life in open fields tending flocks that some believe were destined for the endlessly repetitive Temple sacrifices. The “herald angels” released them from the drab winter routine and sent them from the manger with excited testimony.

Wise men from the East were trapped in grinding idolatrous paganism. The release from onerous fears and frustrations were worth the difficult overland trek across the desert miles.

Mary and Joseph, and all Israel, and you and I are released from personal guilt here and judgement and Hell in the hereafter. “He shall save His people from their sins,” as Joseph heard the angel say (Matthew 1:21).

Not everyone accepted the announced freedom. King Herod, while craftily using the Wise Men as an ancient GPS, never left his personal prison of pride, greed and spiritual rebellion. Haunted by multiple threats to his power and killing scores of feared competitors, Herod died a lonely man. His body was entombed in one of his opulent palaces near Bethlehem where the King of Kings was born. In recent years, his burial spot in the Herodium, as the cone shaped palace foundation is called, has been located. It is a monumental contradiction to the manger not far away.

Eventually, every believer enjoys release from any and all mortal prisons, even those of time and space. Years ago, I sat with confessed multiple murderer David Berkowitz, known as the Son of Sam. I asked David when he would get out of prison, and he simply said, “At the Rapture.” That’s when all God’s reborn children are freed. All of earth’s prisons are abandoned either at the believer’s death or the return of Christ.

Wesley had it right. “He breaks the power of canceled sin, He sets the prisoner free; His blood can make the foulest clean, His blood availed for me.”

Here’s wishing you a wonderful Christmas in “the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free…” (Galatians 5:1).

Dave Virkler

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Austerity - The 2010 Word of the Year

The Merriam-Webster has named its Word of the Year for 2010. The dictionary's editors announced Monday that the term would be "austerity".

In attempting to get the facts straight and the basic concept correct, I looked up the terms using several on-line dictionaries. The first definition was that kind that is often so enlightening and so very helpful. It said simply, “Austerity is possessing the quality of being 'Austere'”. Thanks! That was so useful. Obviously there needed to be just a little more research to shed some serious light on this year’s winning word.

One online source said this of the term: “Austerity is a term from economics that describes a policy where nations reduce living standards, curtail development projects, and generally shift the revenue stream out of the physical economy, in order to satisfy the demands of creditors. Typically, private banks, or institutions like the International Monetary Fund will demand an 'austerity policy' from a national government, as a condition for re-financing loans that are coming due. This might involve cutting food or fuel subsidies, under funding public infrastructure (transport, education, health care, water and power management), or rationing.”

That helped somewhat in understanding the word. But it was the enlightenment offered by a web-based thesaurus that really helped complete my insight on the term. It said primarily: "austerity - the trait of great self-denial (especially refraining from worldly pleasures) non-indulgence, asceticism self-denial, self-discipline and the trait of practicing self-discipline".

With the world economy being what it is, there should be no shock that ‘austerity’ would be selected as the word of the past year. Many have been forced to cut back, reduce their living standards, curtail certain pleasures and activities, and live new lives of self-discipline and denial – something many are not used to or at all appreciate. Of course this is all relative depending on the standards of the individuals. So concept in practice means much more to some than it does to others.

But it is now the Christmas season. This is the time of the year that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, the little baby who would be the world’s only Savior. And when it comes to describing what the Son of God did for mankind, there is no single word, or any grouping of terms, that can even begin to relate the level of 'austerity’ that He willingly submitted Himself to in order to redeem a fallen, rebellious, and sinful race. Words just cannot suffice when trying to describe something of this magnitude and importance.

But if there had to be a selection of words chosen that would best attempt to describe what He did by denying His glory as God, and submitting Himself to an unthinkable level of sacrifice and self-discipline, they would come from the pen of the Apostle Paul in Philippians chapter two. The theological term for the passage is the word “Kenosis”. It is a Greek word that speaks about a spiritual "self- emptying". But it is the level of that emptying by the Creator God that is simply beyond man’s ability to grasp now and, perhaps, even in heaven.

Verse 5 begins this most profound truths seen anywhere in Scripture. “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. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11)

Again, no finite mind will even begin to understand the level of ‘austerity’ evidenced in the incarnation revealed at the manger, nor the indescribable level of self-sacrifice and discipline displayed decades later on the cross.

But with that said, even those who cannot begin to grasp the depths of what Philippians describes about what Christ gave up to do, all are more than capable of comprehending the awesome love of God and the full forgiveness described in perhaps the Bible’s most well-known verse - “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 3:16-17)

If you know this personally through faith the babe of Bethlehem, and the Christ of the cross, then appropriately honor Him this Christmas. Seriously thank Him if you have experienced His miraculous salvation through saving faith. And perhaps, at this most favored and blessed time of the year, consider taking the opportunity to share this greatest of all gifts with someone who does not!

Bill Breckenridge

Friday, December 17, 2010

2010 Person of the Year

He is the second youngest to ever receive the prestigious award. And although his name and face may be relatively hidden, his product is the exact opposite. It is seen by a staggering percentage of the world’s population. He is Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of the monster social-networking site Facebook.

For those still unaware, or uninterested, Wikipedia describes the world-changing software like this: “Facebook: a social network service and website launched in February 2004 that is operated and privately owned by Facebook, Inc.As of July 2010 Facebook has more than 500 million active users. Users may create a personal profile, add other users as friends and exchange messages, including automatic notifications when they update their profile. Additionally, users may join common interest user groups, organized by workplace, school, or college, or other characteristics. Facebook allows anyone who declares themselves to be at least 13-years old to become a registered user of the website. Membership was initially limited to Harvard students. But it then gradually added support for students at various other universities before opening to high school students, and, finally, to anyone aged 13 and over. A January 2009 study ranked Facebook as the most used social network by worldwide monthly active users.”

The person of the year is an interesting award to say the least. Also according to Wikipedia, “The Person of the Year (formerly Man of the Year) is an annual issue of the United States news magazine ‘Time’ that features a person, group, idea, place, or even a machine. The selection is credited to someone or something that, "for better or for worse, has done the most to influence the events of the year.” This means it has included not just good and bad people like a Ronald Reagan or Joseph Stalin who both won the distinction twice. Charles Lindbergh was the first winner in 1927.

Again, sometimes ‘Person of the Year’ comes in some rather odd areas. In 2006, the selection was simply a “You”. There have been other rather unique choices considering the name of the award. It sounds as through it should be a singular person - male or female. Other illustrations include the Endangered Earth in 1988, U.S. Scientists in 1960, American Women in 1975, and the computer in 1982.

Facebook has undoubtedly changed the landscape of the communications culture, at least in nations where computers are common and in the hands of the majority. Its impact has been mixed with both good and bad, as many huge world-changing ideas and products do. For example, it has given ‘real’ friends and family unlimited opportunities to stay in touch and share their lives in a unique and timely fashion.

It has also been used for some less than honorable purposes. It has been discovered that Facebook is assisting in the breakup of countless marriages when old girl and boy friends stumble onto, or intentionally seek out, those with whom they had romantic relationships earlier in their lives. Then there is the serious addition factor and the very real privacy and security concerns. Then, too, there is the easy exposure of young teens to mature and sometimes very inappropriate subject matter by so-called ‘friends’ – some of which they don’t even really know. So as far as Facebook is concerned, it could be said, there is the “good, the bad, and the ugly” all at once.

But in the minds of at least some, there is one name that is conspicuously missing from the ‘Person of the Year’ list. Some might bristle at the fact that Jesus Christ has never been included, even though there have been other religious leaders included over the years. But when all things are analyzed, the Son of God and Savior of mankind, is far beyond any single yearly award. He is alone the single greatest "Person of all history and eternity.” He is equally fully man and also fully God. As such, His impact is not only good, it is beyond all human finite comprehension as His contribution literally rescues the soul of man from the power and penalty of human sin. That is why he came to earth. Matthew 1:21 sums it up quickly and concisely. “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins." The writer Luke adds his weight on the same truth. “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:11-12)

"The Person, or People, Of the Year” may enjoy their slice of time in the limelight. And we are thankful for those people, and things, that have improved life in one way or another. But even these unique individuals, along with the billions of obscure names and unknown lives, will someday stand before their Creator. No earthly resume or accomplishments will count at all at that time. But hopefully, in that most sobering of all of life’s moments, they will have already come to personally know and trust by faith the “Person of The Ages”, “The Creator of The Universe”, “The Babe of Bethlehem”, and the “Savior of Sinners”. If so, they will be able to stand before God confidently knowing and claiming on the words of the apostle in 1 John 2:1-2.

“My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.”

For these to who forgiveness of sin and redemption has become a reality, the blessed words of Christmas hymn, “Hark The Herald Angels Sing," has a special and miraculous meaning of the One who will save and protect them for all eternity:

Hail! The heav'n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail! The Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die!
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Hark! The herald angels sing,
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Bill Breckenridge

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Good News From The War on Christmas

For many, especially Christians, it seems long overdue. But basically, it appears that many of the nation’s top retailers have recognized, maybe not of their own choice, that the season we are now in will again be referred to as “Merry Christmas” around their premises. Like it or not, the name of Christ will be front and center along with some of the more recent, and totally secular, greetings.

It seems hard to escape the reality of connecting Merry Christmas with the holiday, that is if you can read at a third grade level. Like it or not or say it or not - it is all about Him. The millions spent on gifts are just evidence that the season is truly His. They serve as a biblical reminder of the greatest gift ever given to man – a gift beyond any dollar amount and far beyond any imaginable earthly value. It is a gift that is priceless, precious and will never wear out or be lost. It is eternal!

It appears now that pressure from customers and organizations, especially like American Family Association, have finally placed enough pressure in boycott form to turn the tide and bring the term “Merry Christmas” back into vogue – or at least be deemed as an acceptable greeting. Many major store chains like Walmart, Target, Sears and the Gap have come along side. As one major chain CEO stated, "The politically correct holiday verbiage is going away. Companies are getting the message."

But there are still some boycotted targets this year including Dick’s Sporting goods and Radio Shack who have still resisted simply giving Christ any due for a few short weeks in December.

"This seems rather foolish since shoppers vote with their wallets every day," said Ellen Davis, a VP at the National Retail Federation. "We see the word Christmas being used much more this year than three or four years ago. The pendulum seems to have swung back. Retailers certainly tread carefully when it comes to the subject of Christmas. This year's NRF/Big Research survey found that 91 percent of consumers plan to celebrate Christmas, compared with 5% for Hanukkah and 2% for Kwanzaa. Finally, Merry Christmas will resound more freely and not just ‘happy holiday’s or ‘season's greetings’. There will be Christmas sales and Christmas trees and Christmas carols galore – an amazing concept to occur at Christmas!”

The recent shelving of the term using the Savior’ s name has been a mere reflection and symptom of a nation that has lost its spiritual foundation and missed the light of the world (John 8:12) having been blinded by the artificial glitter and glamour of the super-season. But the most serious part of this truth and trend is not just being greeted with “Happy Holidays” instead of "Merry Christmas". It is rather the total ignorance of the person of the Christ of Christmas and especially why he traded the glory of heaven for a frail temporary human body. That knowledge is not just about how one refers to a national holiday, but about an understanding about the most serious of all of life’s ramifications – both now and in eternity!

Hopefully, during what is a temporarily spiritually heightened season, there will be some that will come to fully understand why ‘Merry Christmas’ is not only the correct term, but something that represents the most crucial internal change and blessing ever offered to any man. Christ is, as they say, ‘the reason for the season’. And the reasons He came as fully God wrapped in human flesh, some 20 centuries ago include the following:

1. He came wrapped in human flesh to reveal and illustrate the love, glory, and character of the eternal Creator God: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

2. He came to put an end to the rule of God’s arch-enemy and ultimately defeat Him fully. “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8)

3. He came as Savior to rescue humanity from the power, plague, and the judgement of sin: “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:12)

4. He came as Savior to be ‘Emmanuel’ - to live inside all true believers now and forever: “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins." So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us." (Matthew 1:21-23)

5. He came as savior and Lord to fully, and forever, set free and change the hearts of all who would trust Him personally through trusting faith: “Therefore if the Son makes you free , you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

6. And he came to do what little Linus said on stage in the classic cartoon classic, “Charlie Brown Christmas”:

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

The Christ of Christmas came to die in our place in order save us from our sins, make us all new creations, and create an eternal dwelling place where we will dwell forever with Him in heaven someday. So If you know that on a personal level, by all means, have a blessed, joy-filled, Christ-honoring, celebration. And take the opportunity, at this sacred and significant season, to tell others exactly why Christmas is so very merry to you as a child of Emmanuel.

Bill Breckenridge

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Pearl Harbor: Enemies and Brothers

On December 7, 1941, United States military personnel eased into a typically balmy Sunday morning at Pearl Harbor. A midget enemy sub had been sighted and fired upon by the U.S. destroyer Ward near the entrance to Pearl Harbor, but the report was delayed and then received skeptically.

Two Army radar operators noticed an uncommonly large blip moving in from the north. Their superiors assumed it was a U.S. bomber squadron due in from the mainland that morning. But Japanese flight commander Mitsuo Fuchida who had an intense hatred of America, was guiding his deadly force across hundreds of miles of open sea. As the Japanese moved in for the kill, no one knew what lay ahead that Sunday morning.

Following Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered a surprise attack against Japan to disarm them psychologically. Brilliant airman Lt. Col. James Doolittle, just back from military retirement, was given the unenviable task of training the crews for a lightning raid on Tokyo.

Jacob “Jake” DeShazer passionately hated the enemy and had seized the opportunity for military service by enlisting in the Army Air Corps in 1939. DeShazer became one of “Jimmy” Doolittle’s trainees.

DeShazer was overjoyed to be part of a top-secret task force to smash his avowed enemy. On April 18, 1942, in extremely heavy seas and still some 600 miles away from the coast of Japan, a Japanese trawler was spotted. Believing their cover had been compromised, Doolittle immediately led his sixteen B-25s off the pitching deck of the Hornet. Corporal Jacob DeShazer was bombardier on Plane #16—the last one off the Hornet. DeShazer’s plane bombed Nagoya, 300 miles south of Tokyo.

The original plan was for the planes to fly on into friendly Chinese territory following the bombing of Tokyo and surrounding cities. But they were ten hours off schedule, and there would not be enough fuel.

The success of the bombing mission was marred by the loss of all sixteen planes and the capture by the Japanese of eight of the men who had either bailed out or crash landed in a Japanese-occupied section of China. The crew of Plane #16 bailed out and landed in a Chinese cemetery, and Jacob DeShazer became a prisoner-of-war.

Of the eight POWs, three were tied to crosses and executed. A fourth died of malnutrition a year later. DeShazer and the remaining three were imprisoned and tortured. DeShazer came to hate the Japanese more than ever.

During those dismal months in prison, hope seemed slim. Then the Japanese gave the prisoners a Bible thinking its message would demoralize them since its chief figure, Jesus Christ, was killed. Although of Christian background, DeShazer had questioned the faith and never surrendered personally to the Lord. Incredibly, through the prayers of his mother and other people back home and by reading the story of Christ’s loving sacrifice for him, Jacob DeShazer was soundly converted in a Japanese prison and became a new person in Christ.

A genuine love for the Japanese people flooded DeShazer’s soul, and he vowed that if he were ever released, he would train for missionary service and return to Japan to preach the Gospel. In August 1945, the four prisoners were released—forty months after their capture.

DeShazer made good on his vow. In 1948, after graduating from Seattle Pacific College and undergoing special missions training, DeShazer returned to Japan as a missionary with his wife and young child.

During the early days of his ministry in Japan, DeShazer undertook a 40-day fast for a spiritual breakthrough. At the end of those days of fasting, he sensed that God was going to do something wonderful. The next day, a man came to DeShazer to profess Christ and be baptized. The man was Mitsuo Fuchida.

Mitsuo Fuchida had seemed to miraculously escape death time after time. Of the numerous Japanese officers involved in the Pearl Harbor attack, Fuchida was the only one to survive the war. He visited the doomed city of Hiroshima just a day before its nuclear obliteration. Shortly afterwards, he inspected Hiroshima’s ruins. Of the ten officers who accompanied him, all died of radiation sickness except Fuchida.

After the war, Fuchida turned to farming, but he felt a terrible emptiness in his life. One day, Christian missionaries were distributing tracts in Tokyo’s main railroad station, and one was received by Fuchida. The tract told the astonishing story of Jacob DeShazer. Fuchida’s interest was stirred by the account of a bitter enemy whose life had been changed by Jesus Christ and who was now sharing the Savior with those he formerly despised. Since it was the Book that had changed DeShazer’s life, Fuchida obtained a Bible and began to read it. When he came to the account of Jesus on the cross saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” Fuchida was overwhelmed and accepted Christ as his Savior.

Bitter enemies in war became good friends in Christ. Jacob DeShazer and Mitsuo Fuchida created a mighty stir when they appeared on the same platform to share the saving and reconciling message of Jesus Christ. The Japanese were awed, and 600 received Christ as Savior.

Mitsuo Fuchida traveled widely in Japan, America and Europe sharing his testimony. In Berlin, they came upon a theater where a movie on Pearl Harbor was being shown. Fuchida was introduced as a chief figure of the film and the one who had advised the movie makers in production. At the end of each showing, the Pearl Harbor squadron leader gave his personal testimony. Because of Fuchida’s testimony, many Germans came to know Christ.

Mitsuo Fuchida died in 1976 on May 30, and Jake DeShazer died on March 25, 2008 at the age of 95. They are now together as brothers in Christ for eternity.

In the worst of situations, God’s grace can bring about thrilling personal redemption and wondrous reconciliation. If you are unreconciled to God and to those about you, Jesus Christ is the answer. Your decision may not be as historically dramatic as those I’ve just recounted, but it will be as personally satisfying and as eternally certain!

Dave Virkler

Note: The Amazing Grace of World War II, a more detailed account including what happened to Jimmy Doolittle, is available through our ministry. Beyond Pearl Harbor, is an audio version that includes DeShazer's personal testimony. Find them at our website.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Military’s New “Game-Changer”

The U.S. military calls it a literal “game-changer” as far as its counterinsurgency operations are concerned in Afghanistan. They are referring to the new smart weapon now about to be placed into the hands of the soldiers in combat in the Middle East. It is called the XM25 system. And beginning shortly, Special Forces will be outfitted with some 12,500 of the $30,000 smart weapons.

The XM25 will be the first-ever programmable "smart" grenade launcher. The shoulder-fired weapon uses micro-chipped ammunition to target and kill the enemy, even when the enemy is hidden behind walls or under other forms of protective cover. It is also the first time that smart weapon technology will be placed into the hands of individual soldiers. It will reportedly give American soldiers a huge edge in warfare, as the enemy will no longer be guaranteed safety by holding up behind some solid structure. For unsuspecting Islamist extremists, the new ‘game-changer’ may rock their confidence and current strategy of warfare. Hopefully it will help save the lives of many U.S. troops who may no longer need to come face to face in close quarters combat to defeat the enemy.

Throughout human history there have been many events that could be labeled ‘game-changers’. They have come about in nearly every imaginable sphere of life. And those who have been around a good number of years now have seen incredible and staggering technologies that have changed the lives of millions, if not billions, around the world.

When biblically minded Christians hear or read certain terms, there should often come something spiritual in nature to the forefront of their minds. For example, when I first read the term “game-changer” in the article about this new weapon, I was immediately taken back to a hot August night many years ago when the greatest imaginable ‘game-changer’ affected my personal life – forever. It was the night my life changed because Jesus Christ entered in as my Savior. In an instant my life was altered drastically and eternally. There was not immediate perfection, but there were obvious changes in my life’s direction, priorities, interests, and even the altering of my final destination after this life someday ends.

The Bible speaks clearly about the effects of a new life through Christ and what should occur if the game has truly been changed from within. Paul described the event and some of the obvious results of the change when one being held hostage in Satan’s grip ends and he or she enters the glorious and secure hands of God’s faith family through faith.

Colossians 1:10-14 shows some of what a truly changed believer is and looks like. “That you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. 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.” This is, with question, the ultimate life game-changer for everyone ever born. And it is not for a select few, but for all who are willing to change. (John 3:16, Romans 10:9-10, 13)

Then in 2 Corinthians chapter 5, the Apostle reveals what should be the bold and outward changes that are the evidence of a internally altered heart and life. Verse 17 begins, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

But then the next verse reveals that this game-changing spiritual alteration should bring an instant desire to help others to see their need of an internal change of heart through Christ as well. Verse 18 reads, “Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” Verse 20 continues, “ Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

Hopefully the military’s new XM25 smart weapon system will ultimately save many lives of America’s service men and women. But the larger issue, whether one is the hunter or the hunted, is that there eventually comes to each that great spiritual life-changing experience by trusting not in weapons and technology, but in Jesus Christ as their own personal Savior. (Psalm 20:7)

Some twenty centuries ago, God came to earth and took on the form on a man. (John 1:14, Colossians 1:15). His birth is celebrated each December. And His miraculous incarnation was for the express purpose of later dying on a cross and being resurrected three days later. This would be the proof of His deity and proof of His ability to forgive sin. This was, and still is, the greatest ‘game changing’ act in all of human history and eternity. And the irreversible and stunning results of that greatest of all changes is described throughout the New Testament including in John’s profound words in 1 John 5:1-13.

“And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God."

Bill Breckenridge

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

New Reality Show On The Cutting Edge?

Anyone who watches a good deal of TV today knows that there is almost no limit to the number of ‘reality shows’ to be viewed. For the most part, these rarely appeal to me for a variety of reasons. First, few really represent reality on any level. I’ll never understand how anyone can act normal and ‘real’ with a camera crew and director a few feet away from what is going on at any given moment. There is also the reality that reality may have to be ‘spiced up’ at times to be made interesting enough to hold viewers and ratings. Then too, there is the subject matter that sometimes includes various levels of morally inappropriate subject matter.

Many will recall the wildly popular “Jon and Kate Plus Eight” that followed the ‘real’ lives of a couple who had 2 sets of multiple births, with the later one being sextuplets! The result, or should we say the ‘reality’, of their lives under a microscope was eventual infidelity and the total breakdown of a marriage between two supposedly committed Christians according to a book released just before it all unraveled before the adoring gaze of an entire nation. Amazingly, the show continues today. The current title is simply, “Kate Plus Eight” that showcases the single mom who, through numerous makeovers, now leads the life of a supermodel as much as a struggling mother tending to the needs of a huge family.

But now, there is another reality show to add to the mix, one that seems to go a bit too far, even when compared with others that have already pushed the limits (sporting titles like “Knocked Up”). But E! Network has outdone even themselves with this new concept called ‘Brideplasty’.

In this upcoming slice of real-life engaged women, in their preparation to enter wedded bliss, will be competing for the chance toget multiple cosmetic surgery procedures near or at the end of the show. Their goal is to achieveas near to physical perfection as possible prior to their big day. The winner will also receive a lavish, celebrity-style wedding paid for by E!

When the show season ends, and the wedding begins, there is also the reality of a groom standing at the alter who may get to say, “I do” to someone who may look nothing like the woman he proposed to months earlier. It should also be noted that the any groom who allows or suggests that his future mate go through a nationally televised circus-like event, and the reality of certain hazardous surgeries, himself has a few loose screws of his own in my humble opinion. It all reminds me of what I sometimes say to my teens when we witness someone saying or doing something highly inappropriate in public. “Now there is a real keeper.” They are even beginning, on occasion, to say it to me first before I get the words out!

The search for physical perfection has become an epidemic in 21st century America. The number of teens requesting and undergoing cosmetic procedures has increased dramatically over the last decade. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons estimates that more than 333,000 cosmetic procedures were performed on patients 18 years of age or younger in the United States in 2005, compared to approximately 14,000 in 1996. In 2005, one in four of these were surgical procedures such as nose reshaping, ear surgery, breast augmentation, liposuction, chin augmentation, and tummy tucks. And obviously these numbers have risen significantly even in the last 5 years or so. It should like-wise be noted, again, that some of these procedures performed on these youngsters come with a degree of serious medical risk.

As with many of the reality shows, the contestants are as devious and underhanded as they can be to win the coveted prize – this time radical surgical procedures. This whole concept, at least for me, reveals that they need an internal makeover far more than anything desired to be improved upon on the outside.

In 1 Samuel chapter sixteen the writer records an event surrounding the search for a new king to replace Saul. Verse 6 reveals how it was assumed that Eliab would be the perfect choice because of his outward and external strengths. But shockingly, verse 7 declared a basic truth that should be a lesson for all of us – especially those competing on ‘Brideplasty’ or young people obsessed with surgically enhancing the physical attributes given them by their Creator. In verse 7 we read, “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 in nothing wrong with Christians taking good care of the body God has given them. Actually that is right since it is the literal temple of the Holy Spirit – the body used to serve and glorify God in this life. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 supports this reality. “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's.”

The reality is this. There is no one who is “perfect” physically speaking. And those who may seem ‘close’, for a time, whether it be natural or through artificial means, will someday find their exterior attributes slowly failing them. And it is for that unpleasant reality, but for reasons far more critical, that life’s perfection should be sought and found through Jesus Christ – something stressed throughout the Scriptures. (Romans 12:2, 1 Peter 5:10-11, Ephesians 4:11-15, Colossians 4:12)

The Apostle Paul summed up the goal and the ‘reality’ of a real, meaningful, and eternal perfection in Colossians 1:28, when he wrote, “Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.”

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Real Intent of Thanksgiving

It’s Thanksgiving time, and most Americans are busy preparing for the day. Tragically, Thanksgiving may be better known as a school holiday, family feasting time or even “Black Friday” sales opportunity than the time of God-consciousness originally intended.

Pilgrims set the tone when, after anxious months of hunger, disease and death wiping out 40% of the colony, they held a time of gratitude for God’s fellowship and provision.

Years later, General George Washington, as Supreme Commander of the American military during the Revolutionary War, established a day of thanksgiving for the colonies’ victory in military conflict. In 1789, President Washington designated a day of national thanksgiving, exhorting his fellow citizens of the new nation.

WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a DAY OF PUBLICK THANKSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

NOW THEREFORE, I do recommend and assign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH DAY of NOVEMBER next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed;-- for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish Constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted;-- for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge;-- and, in general, for all the great and various favours which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also, that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions;-- to enable us all, whether in publick or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us); and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

GIVEN under my hand, at the city of New-York, the third day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine.

Other proclamations would follow from President Abraham Lincoln and succeeding presidents. Nearly all end with the phrase “in the year of our Lord...” meaning the year was counted from the birth of Jesus Christ.

Centuries before, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Thanks be unto God for His indescribable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15). Hebrews 13:15 suggests Thanksgiving is to be every day, “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.”

Happily, Barack Obama has followed honorably in the presidential tradition by issuing the 2010 Thanksgiving Proclamation. It reads in part:

In confronting the challenges of our day, we must draw strength from the resolve of previous generations who faced their own struggles and take comfort in knowing a brighter day has always dawned on our great land. As we stand at the close of one year and look to the promise of the next, we lift up our hearts in gratitude to God for our many blessings, for one another, and for our Nation. This Thanksgiving Day, we remember that the freedoms and security we enjoy as Americans are protected by the brave men and women of the United States Armed Forces. These patriots are willing to lay down their lives in our defense, and they and their families deserve our profound gratitude for their service and sacrifice. …

As Americans gather for the time-honored Thanksgiving Day meal, let us rejoice in the abundance that graces our tables, in the simple gifts that mark our days, in the loved ones who enrich our lives, and in the gifts of a gracious God. Let us recall that our forebears met their challenges with hope and an unfailing spirit, and let us resolve to do the same.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim Thursday, November 25, 2010, as a National Day of Thanksgiving. I encourage all the people of the United States to come together -- whether in our homes, places of worship, community centers, or any place of fellowship for friends and neighbors -- to give thanks for all we have received in the past year, to express appreciation to those whose lives enrich our own, and to share our bounty with others.

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

My favorite Thanksgiving story was shared with me by Anne Palmer, whose minister father wrote a touching song in 1927.

As a 12- year old, she sat at the supper table in a parsonage in western New York State as her father shared that the coal bill was due and they needed $100 to pay it, but there was no money. Right then the doorbell rang, and there stood a woman who asked whether the man opening the door was A.A. Luther. Hearing that he was, she said, “I have come by bus from Detroit, Michigan to fulfill my mother’s desire. She was much blessed by the song ‘Jesus Never Fails’ and told me that if Mr. Luther was alive when she died, I was to find him and deliver a $100 check.”

The woman declined Arthur Luther’s invitation to come in saying she had to go immediately cross town and catch the bus back to Detroit. Luther rejoined his family at the supper table, and they had a thanks and praise service like you can’t imagine. Anne told me that event stayed with her all her life teaching her the truth of Phil 4:19, “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”

Jesus Never Fails

Earthly friends may prove untrue,
Doubts and fears assail;
One still loves and cares for you;
One who will not fail.

Tho’ the sky be dark and drear,
Fierce and strong the gale,
Just remember He is near,
And He will not fail.

In life's dark and bitter hour,
Love will still prevail;
Trust His everlasting pow’r,
Jesus will not fail.

Jesus never fails, Jesus never fails,
Heav’n and earth may pass away,
But Jesus never fails.

The Lord in presidential proclamations from George Washington to Barack Obama is the same Lord who told Arthur Luther and all of us through Philippians 4:19 that Jesus never fails!

Happy thanksgiving to you and your family as we express gratitude for the Lord’s unsearchable riches.

Dave Virkler

(Anne tells her story on the November 28 broadcast of The Word And The World, in which we highlight the stories of Thanksgiving hymns. Check our website for a radio station near you, or listen to it on our website as of 11/29.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Airline Security Procedures Under Heavy Protest

To say that many travelers are irritated, frustrated and flat-out offended over some of the new screening techniques at the nation’s airports would be a gross understatement. With Thanksgiving, the heaviest travel day of the year, upon us it should be interesting to see how passengers react when x-ray pictures are taken of their bodies, or the hands of total strangers begin touching them in almost every imaginable area of their bodies.

The current body scans take as little as 10 seconds. But people who decline this process must then submit to a full pat-down which takes much longer. This second option, if chosen, includes agency officials touching the entire clothed body including the genital areas of passengers. The fear is that the whole sordid scene will cause massive delays on Thanksgiving at dozens of major airports nationwide.

John Pistole, head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has pledged to review security procedures in the wake of a public outcry but states that this must be somehow balanced by people's demand for passenger protection. On an interview on CNN's "State of the Union," Pistole stated, "Clearly it's invasive, it's not comfortable. But if we are to detect terrorists, who have again proven innovative and creative in their design and implementation of bombs that are going to blow up airplanes and kill people, then we have to do something that prevents that."

The head of the TSA is requesting that the flying public be patient with the current procedures despite the fact that many feel they are not only wrong, but also flawed and somewhat ineffective in what they are trying to achieve in the first place. But try telling that to the 100 people whose full body scans were somehow leaked onto the internet last week or the father of a 15-year old daughter whose body is being fully scanned, or worse - physically searched by a total stranger. I surely know what my reaction would be!

Privacy is a precious commodity and something Americans value highly, have fought for valiantly, and have come to expect despite more and more government intrusions into their personal lives. And this latest form of control is, without question, over the line and must somehow be adjusted or improved upon drastically. The future of the entire airline industry may well rest on its ability to do this job but in a far less offensive manner.

But as maddening as this new transportation fiasco has become, people should be far more concerned about what the Bible says about the constant inspection that takes place in the deepest parts of their lives every day – namely the ongoing inspection of their hearts and minds on a 24/7 basis.

The writer of Hebrews recorded a basic biblical truth in chapter four regarding the continual gaze of God into the hearts and souls of each and every living being. Verse twelve begins with the probing ability of the Scriptures themselves. That is then followed in verse 13 with a staggering reality – one that should be of even greater concern to everyone and far more than the current procedures for boarding an aircraft in a post-9/11 world.

Verse 12 begins, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”

The battle and debate for security screening methods for boarding airplanes in America has just begun. It will likely rage on for years to come as both sides dig in their heels and bolster stances through their arguments and strategies.

But the battle and method for defeating human sin was accomplished some 2,000 years ago on a cross, long before mankind even dreamed of flying the previously “Friendly Skies”. It was there that the Son of God paid the price for the sins of men. When all is said and done, it will not be any human inspection, by any method, for any reason that will matter. It will be all about the condition of the inner heart and whether or not the all-seeing eyes of God detects His Holy Spirit living there through personal faith in His Son Jesus Christ.

Hopefully, going through or even reading about the current airport inspection system might act as a reminder to some that there is a future day approaching when all men will stand fully exposed before God. Nothing they did wrong, or failed to do right, will slip past His supernatural screening process. All that will matter in that eternally significant moment is whether their hearts are exposed and shown to harbor unforgiven sin, or their souls are viewed as clean and cleared through the purifying effects of salvation in Christ as eluded to in 1 John 2:1:

“My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

Bill Breckenridge

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Remembering Veterans of War and Faith

As I write, Veterans Day is focusing on remembering those who have served our military, many of them giving their lives to defend America in war and peace. The newspapers and media programs today feature gripping stories of military survivors whose memories recall gallant service and not a few recounting their fellow soldiers’ deaths in tortured battles around the globe.

Formerly called Armistice Day but renamed after World War II, Veterans Day recalls the end of World War I when, on November 11, the armistice became official in a railroad car at 11:00 AM in a French forest in 1918. Many observe a two-minute silence at precisely 11:00 AM each November 11.

This year, as Veterans Day approached, my wife and I realized our outdoor flags had worn out and not been replaced. It would be a tragic oversight not to replace them by November 11. Dutifully, we shopped last night at a nationally known department store chain only to find they did not stock any outdoor American flags. We drove away sadly noting the pathetic erosion of awareness and appreciation for those who have served, and recalling that when wars first raged in Iraq and Afghanistan, flags were flying and patriotism ran high. Now, we admitted, even though our troops are still fighting and dying, often leaving broken homes behind, the edge is gone, and we tend to forget.

First thing this morning, I bought two new flags at our local hardware store where they had an ample stock. One was for our residence and the other for the Dedication Evangelism headquarters building next door. The proper locations were awkwardly reached, but the mounting screws didn’t go in easily. At our Communications Center, the anchor place was just out of easy reach, and I had to position and reposition the ladder, then ascend slowly to properly install the flag.

It took much longer to put up the flags than I had planned, and I was tempted to complain and fret over the delay as other important business was waiting inside. But then I thought, “Why am I distressed over these few minutes when brave men and women have fought and died so I can live in freedom and preach the Gospel through our ministry? Shame on me!” And so I got the flags flying on this special day.

All this eventually turned my attention to God’s memorial passages of the Bible. One is Hebrews 6:10, where we find, “For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister.” Hebrews 11 is an entire chapter honoring spiritual warriors who fought the Lord’s spiritual battles in faith. Some were prominent Bible figures, such as Abel, Noah, Abraham and Moses. Others were obscure, remote figures whose life flitted past with scarcely a lingering notice, such as Barak and Jephthah. (Read up on them in Judges 4, 5, 11 and 12.)

All heroes of faith are memorialized in God’s record books, even those who merely frequently fellowship in the Lord. “Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD listened and heard them; So a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the LORD and who meditate on His name.” (Malachi 3:16 & 17)

Human peace agreements are only temporary given the warring, uncontrollable nature of sinful man. When Hitler came to power to begin WWII and crushed France, French officials were forced to sign a surrender armistice in that same rail car parked in that identical spot in the French forest on June 22, 1940.

However, in Christian theology, our surrender becomes our permanent freedom. Calling on the Name of the Lord brings salvation as Romans 10:13 declares. In Christ we yield and are liberated forever. John 8:36 says, “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” Romans 5:1 reaffirms it: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ …”

November 11 will pass and veterans will be forgotten for another year, but we are never forgotten by “the captain of [our] salvation” (Heb. 2:10). “God is not unjust to forget….”

Dave Virkler

Monday, November 8, 2010

Giants Become Baseball’s Giants

It has been 56 years since their last title and the odds of them capturing baseball’s ultimate prize was 20 to 1 at the season’s start. But when it was all said and done, it took the Giants of San Francisco just 5 games to dispose of the Texas Rangers – the same team which was good enough to knock the heavily favored and defending champion New York Yankees out of post-season play.

Many experts attributed the Giants' success to the team’s mid-season roster changes. There was the departure of Bengie Molina along with the arrival of Buster Posey, and Pat Burrell coming in late-May. Javier Lopez was acquired just before the trade deadline, Cody Ross arrived in late-August. And for many fans, it was this odd cast-of-characters and seeming collection of misfits that made these Giants so easy to like and root for. Then there was the matter of that half-century championship drought.

Overall, the Rangers batted just .190 in the series. And after Game 1, they scored in only three of 35 innings while Giants pitchers posted a 2.38 ERA in the Series - and that's with an uncharacteristic 11-7 victory in game one in the mix. All in all, not too shabby – at all!

Sports is an odd entity as well as a big business. But raw talent and huge contracts do not always prevail even though it typically helps greatly. Approximately 80% of post-season teams tend to have the highest payrolls in most years. But sometimes the unexpected comes with the most unexpected results. This year’s series was a case in point. In the minds of most experts, it would eventually boil down to New York versus Philadelphia. Both powerhouses fell to the two teams that eventually battled it out for the Major League Baseball trophy. And for the last two standing teams, it was the one with the most recognizable stars that eventually fell fast and hard in just 5 games - losing at home no less. The bottom line is that anyone can beat anyone else – especially in a short series situation.

The 20 to 1 Giants, who have not won the championship in over a half a century, were low on baseball’s totem pole in spring training. They were not even predicted to win their own division, much less get anywhere near the final showdown. They were not the team for the most part with the high salaried, household name, and recognizable word-class athletes. But they won and did so convincingly.

Interestingly, the same sort of thing often occurs when it comes to those who eventually achieve spiritual salvation and win forgiveness of sin and a heavenly destiny through Jesus Christ. His roster of eternal life is made up of any, small or great, who have faith in His finished work on the cross on their behalf.

Beginning inn 1 Corinthians1:31, the Apostle Paul spoke about the typical kind of people that come to God by faith and find forgiveness and eternal life in His presence.

“For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God — and righteousness and sanctification and redemption — that, as it is written, "He who glories, let him glory in the LORD."

A precious few gifted and wealthy athletes will lay claim to being world champions in their respective sport each year. But what dwarfs this seemingly greatest of earthly achievements are the value and rewards of those mentioned in Hebrews chapter 11. Some were household names, but most were no-name believers who knew what is most important and lasting in this life and were willing to literally give up theirs to prove that, as graphically described in Hebrews 11:32-40.

"For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented — of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise.”

Congratulations to the Giants of Baseball. But eternal kudos are due to all the giants of the faith that are destined for unimaginable rewards and honor that will last for eternity.

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Post-Election Observations

Across America, most election returns are in, and despite a few recounts or undecided races, the winds of political change blew in a huge Republican wave soundly trouncing the Democrats in the House of Representatives and becoming a significant factor in the Senate. Other political races have changed the political topography for years to come. Flips in governorships and state houses mean that conservative influence will hold sway in statewide redistricting and national policy-making for the foreseeable future.

The switch to Republican House control changes leadership on the floor and in committees meaning that the origin, flow and even debate of legislation has shifted from the President and his party. The socialistic trends in growing government healthcare, taxation and numerous other issues have been highly thwarted or even halted. International observers must be shocked by the turnaround in only two years—a shift from Western European socialism back to American individual entrepreneurialism.

Speaking of that swift transition, the founding fathers wrote a genius theme into their baby Constitution of 1787. Its checks and balances were necessitated, as they felt, by correctly observing that man was inherently sinful, power was naturally corrupting and absolute power was absolutely corrupting. The full House faces election every two years while the Senate races are staggered every six years. In our Republic, which the Constitution created, voters elect representatives.

That America is a republic is reflected in every pledge of allegiance “to the flag and to the Republic for which it stands...” It was my privilege recently to preach in the church formerly pastored by Francis Bellamy, who composed the Pledge of Allegiance in 1892. As I observed the commemorative plaque on the wall of the First Baptist Church in Little Falls, NY, I thought of the unique republican form of government our founders gave us.

This year of 2010 was one of those full House election years as well as one for a number of other crucial races. A Christian who did not vote was either ignorant of Christ’s political instruction or overtly sinning in disobedience. In New Testament times, Israel was tragically burdened by pagan Roman rule. A blasphemously self-deified, God-like Caesar had his image on the coinage. Christ viewed that likeness in an entrapment effort by his enemies and shocked them by commanding, “Render…to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Luke 20:25).

The obvious separation of Church and state—but the legitimacy of both—was thereby established for the New Testament Christian era. Few realize that in America, Caesar is not an individual or even a body of men but a document—the U.S. Constitution, and this stunning document assigns electoral responsibility to its citizens. Who better to obey Christ than believers who hold dual citizenship in both the Kingdom of Heaven and the kingdom of representative government? Sometimes this choice can bring chaos and suffering, and sometimes it brings blessing and progress since God’s designated sovereignty includes political choice.

A whole new slate of politicians needs our prayers as Paul enjoins in I Tim. 2:1 & 2. “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.” And even those who lost need our prayers for their grace in defeat and their continuing influence, whether little or much.

“ authority” includes all in influence—winners and losers. Those attempting to extricate us from the governmental excesses need prayer for wisdom even as those who plunged us into the chaos need prayer for their repentance. Elections should do more than merely switch party personnel. Unless guided by spiritual and biblical principles, political exchanges may mean that we have merely swapped rascals.

Several elections ago, I viewed a seeming endless forest of campaign signs stuck in several lawns touting candidates for various offices. In the distance, I saw one with indistinct lettering. Approaching close enough to read it, I was encouraged to find the homeowner had implanted a small election-like sign simply reading, “John 3:16.” Amid all the political advertising, it bore the solution to it all. “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.”

In the election aftermath, with its exuberant victors and wounded warriors, let us not forget that personal salvation and even national deliverance comes from a free expression of redemption in Jesus Christ, and “if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36).

Dave Virkler

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Triple Importance of October 31

Sunday, October 31 was a trilogy of historic, political and spiritual confluence.

The last day of October, known as Reformation Sunday, recalled the day in 1517 when Catholic priest Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on his church door in Wittenberg, Germany. The event is generally recognized as setting off the Protestant Reformation. Luther’s byword became “justification by faith,” as Romans 5:1 declares it: “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Luther was distressed by a nearby intrusive papal salesman, Johann Tetzel, hawking fund-raising indulgences to finance the beautification of Rome. The indulgences were purchased by the poor, and, according to Roman Catholic belief, would spring one from purgatory. Luther chose October 31, the evening before All Saints Day, as his day of protest. It was a time called All Hallowed Even or Hallowed Evening when the faithful prepared themselves to honor the departed in grace and martyrs of the church.

Hallowed Evening unfortunately had incorporated pagan occult practices to facilitate warding off returning spirits of the dead. The amalgam of sincere spirituality gradually merged with sheer nonsense to birth the modern Halloween (Hallowe’en) interaction with death and the dead. As Isaiah described the spiritually debauched condition of northern Israel’s “covenant with death” (Isaiah 28:18), shallow people erect tombstones, skeletons and ascribe reality to witches and ghosts in an annual exercise of public demonic occultism.

The Protestant Reformation eventually increased the desire for political freedom as well as spiritual deliverance and inspired some of the New World emigrations and the crafting of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. The amazing U.S. Constitution, called “the most wonderful work ever struck off by the brain and purpose of man” by British statesman William Gladstone, calls for an electorate vote on the entire House of Representatives every two years, and this year is that election. Throughout the weekend, political candidates accelerated their push to either retain or gain national or state office. All legislation must originate in the House, and so the political tide of the country was being contested throughout the days observing Halloween and the Reformation.

But Sunday is the first day of the calendar week. It is the day Christians either tacitly or directly observe the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead—that life-giving rebirth of the spiritually dead sinner to newness of eternal life. Even without significant attention to history, spooks or politics, every first day of every week of every year focuses on history’s most stunning truth: “He is risen, as He said” (Matthew 28:6).

When all the historical dates and absurd occultism and fevered political campaigns have ceased, the first-day cycle will remind us that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old thing have passed away; behold all things have become new” (II Corinthians 5:17).

Dave Virkler

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"Politically Correct" Discussions of Islam

Bill O’Reilly and Juan Williams are in the media doghouse together, except that Juan is out of his NPR job as head news analyst.

O’Reilly has been the focus of news commentary regarding his visit to left-leaning TV talk show The View. Whoopie Goldberg and Joy Behar walked off the set after he made the statement that Muslims attacked us on 9/11. That, of course, was contextualized in the uneasiness about a Muslim mosque in sight of Ground Zero.

Williams was sacked by NPR on Oct. 20 after appearing on The O’Reilly Factor and expressed his personal uneasiness when on an airline with Muslim passengers dressed in their distinctive attire. Political correctness has a thin patience quotient proven by hair-trigger sensitivities to any mention of concerns over Islam.

What this amounts to is a pathetic suppression of historic reality and free speech. Any semi-earnest student of history had better keep his mouth shut, only complimenting Islam for giving us Arabic numbers, intriguing art and some medical and astronomical advances centuries ago, rather than pointing to a massive problem with Islamic history and the radicals’ recent savagery.

Mohammed, the founder of Islam, had twelve wives and dictated a presumed divine revelation that is so unscientific and violent as to challenge the imagination. His early financing came by raiding caravans. Those who spurned Islam were either killed, forced to convert or taxed to pay financially draining tribute.

The massive and bloody invasions of Christian lands by Muslims is too gross to recount. The Muslim Barbary pirates kidnapped or killed untold hundreds of thousands of innocent Christians sending them to slavery or holding them for expensive ransom. By 1794, the threat was so great to America’s shipping in the Mediterranean Sea and eastern Atlantic that the United States established a navy to eliminate the 20% of our national budget being siphoned off in extortion. The U.S. Marines put a stop to this debauchery, and to this day we sing about “the shores of Tripoli,” which was the deciding battle in Algeria on the Barbary Coast. The deaths of 1.5 million Armenians by 1915 at the hand of Ottoman Muslims would do nothing to comfort Juan Williams either.

If there were a massive call for internal Muslim reform, Williams might feel better, but the sad fact that neutral Muslims seem amazingly mute regarding former atrocities or even current 9/11 type behavior does seem to legitimately unsettle such an anti-prejudice minded man as Juan Williams.

Political correctness has been stifling free speech even when factually true. A strange dampening of Islam discussion seems to be a cleverly crafted effort to dignify Islam and demean Christianity. The Texas Textbook Committee recently voted 7-6 to reverse an imbalance in positive Muslim references over negative Christian ones. It brings into focus a ten-year infiltration of American public school textbooks by Islamic apologists, according to David Barton of Wallbuilders. This is known as subtle Jihad. The wrath and rage of Saudi Wahabis such as Osama Bin Laden is troubling much of the western world, but subtle Jihad is quietly eating away at open discussion of Islam. We are not at war with Islam, but Islam is at war with us according to doctrinaire radicals in open or subtle battle with the non-Muslim world and especially against any friend of Israel.

A personal friend of mine who is an adjunct professor at a Christian college recently put together an in-depth presentation on Islam only to find that the course was cancelled for want of registrants. Further, a Christian school declined his offer to present a free seminar on Islam for interested parents. An indistinct fear of Islam accompanied by refusals to even consider its implications and now the firing of Juan Williams for a single sentence regarding his personal concern are warning signs that all is not well in the world of studies of comparative religions.

While open civilized discussion is needed, more important is the sharing of the Gospel of Christ with the Muslim world. Author Joel Rosenberg reports that hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Iran and other Islamic nations are coming to Christ through radio, TV and quiet personal evangelism. You can read about it in his book “Inside the Revolution.”

The Gospel of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection for our sins and our blessed new life is still the best weapon in calming the raging storms in the human heart and between nations. Talk shows may present the problem, but only a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is the solution. Personal righteousness in Christ will always win over political correctness in public discourse.

Dave Virkler

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Unlikely Super Series Is Set

Few would have bet early on, or even after the baseball post-season began, that both the powerful club from Philadelphia and last year’s defending champions, the New York Yankees, would be watching the World Series at home after a rousing round on their favorite golf courses.

The Phillies great Roy Halladay had just thrown the first post-season no-hitter since Don Larsen and was on the top of his game – literally. He was accompanied by a formidable defensive and offensive lineup to say the least. Many picked them to go all the way. But they would most likely meet their match in the Bronx Bombers who had every reason to think they could repeat as champs with having an arguably better lineup than last year's. Most fanatical and casual fans of the sport were looking forward to a serious and competitive series.

But when the ALCS and NLCS ‘diamond dust’ settled, the two highly favored teams ended their seasons – and both on rather ironic notes. For New York, former Texas super-star Alex Rodriguez struck out, looking to end their comeback hopes and giving his prior team a little something to gloat about along the way. Then on the other side, perhaps the Phillies' most feared batter, Ryan Howard, also ended his team’s dreams by being struck out to end the game and his team’s quest for a series ring. The bottom line was that both of the favored clubs fell short of their goal and, in some ways, are today no different than teams that were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention half way through the season. And even now, one of the remaining two teams, Texas or San Francisco, will eventually see their coveted prize evaporate, leaving them only the bragging rights to say, “We almost won it all."

In one very special way, this year’s post- season series became odd reminders of a serious Bible reality. It is something declared throughout Scripture, but explained most clearly and quickly in Romans chapter three. The Apostle Paul is dealing there with the universal problem of human sin. Unlike with pro sports, where only the few blessed and talented few get to participate, in the game that is real life everyone competes from birth and until they draw their final breath on earth. And according to verse 23, everyone across the board on the human roster has failed totally. Paul relates, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

That fall is nothing insignificant. Actually it represents the single most important aspect of life – every life! In short, it means “to miss the mark” just as will every single major league baseball team but one. The problem is that whoever does hit the mark this year and bring home the highly prized hardware to their cities and fans will not likely win it again next year. New York found that out the hard way in 2010, despite owning the league’s most gigantic payroll.

Missing the mark in failing to win baseball’s biggest prize, or any or major sport for that matter, is ultimately quite meaningless. It is temporary and the excitement eventually fades. Few can even recall who were the winners of the 4 major sports from just 3-4 years ago. But missing the mark when it comes to achieving the standards of a holy God has temporal and eternal consequences – the latter being too horrible for the finite mind to grasp. (Hebrews 10:31, Mark 9:45-46)

But in stark contrast, there is only One who can fully meet God’s standards. He made it possible for everyone in the contest that is life, death, and eternity to make God’s team. But there s a hitch – a huge and significant one. It is not what most would expect and it is revealed in that very next verse just after the hopeless and dire situation of human sin is declared. After writing how all have missed the mark of pleasing a holy God, Paul sharply turns the theological corner with verse 24. There he states, “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, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

Salvation is a free gift of God’s mercy whereby even those who have badly missed the mark are justified in God’s eyes through Christ. In Christ they can be seen positionally as sinless – something else somewhat difficult for the human mind to grasp. But Paul explains how this all comes about later in Romans 5:1-3. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand.”

Many kids grow up in America with some dreams of making it big in one realm or another. If more Christian parents would direct their children to ‘make it big’ in with spiritual matters being priority one, the nation would not be in its current condition. That is another whole issue.

But a select few will one day wear World Series rings. A handful may be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame or have their names written on hockey’s coveted Stanley Cup. But the true and lasting winners are only those who have “hit the mark” and achieved the righteous standing before God that comes only through a personal faith in Jesus Christ. He is the One who died in their place. He is the One who paid the price to make them positionally holy and eternally justified. And He is the One who guarantees their forth-coming inheritance and their heavenly residence.

I would have loved to hit a ‘walk off’ grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning in the seventh game of a world series. Who wouldn’t? But that is little more than temporal insignificant rubbish compared to what Peter describes for those who ‘hit the mark’ squarely in Christ.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:1-5)

Bill Breckenridge

Friday, October 15, 2010

Observations on the Miners’ Rescue in Chile

The rescue of 33 miners in Chile has been described as “the mother of all reality shows.” All of the men who were trapped in a gold and copper mine near the town of Copiapo have emerged safely from over 2,000 feet below ground. Never have miners so hopelessly trapped been raised to safety. This will be one of top stories of 2010, the century, the millennium or perhaps the top rescue story of all time.

The stunning feat produced a roller-coaster of human emotion, and it involved amazing technology and choreography, cooperative effort by local and overseas companies, and psychological determination. But beyond all that, the elements of faith and, more directly, biblical truth are focused clearly.

The miners were unable to save themselves. The miners were helplessly trapped by a landslide 69 days before the first rescue. If there was a self-made way out, they would have found it. All the well-wishing, all the denial of the problem and all the personal toughness of the men could not deliver them. Mankind’s similar spiritual entrapment of incurable sinful mortality is outlined in Ephesians 2:12. “…at that time you were without Christ … having no hope and without God in the world.”

Help had to come from above. Expert deliverance lay with saviors who were separated from the men by half a mile of solid rock. The Bible outlines God’s help from above in Christ: “…He also descended into the lower parts of the earth…He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens…” (Ephesians 4:9b, 10) “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man…” (John 3:13) An Old Testament precursor of this principle is written in God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery. “So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey…” (Exodus 3:8)

No cost was spared in the rescue. Estimates are that the operation cost between $10-20 million provided by private firms and the Chilean government. Chilean President Sebastian Pinera had declared that cost would not be prohibitive, and he personally pledged his presence and legal leverage to provide every equipment need. In reaching down to fallen man, God gave his best and Christ gave His all. “For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) “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…” (Galatians 1:3-5)

Life before the rescue was not normal. During the 69 days that the miners were trapped, we saw that life was possible but not permanently sustainable or even normal. The men were able to see their loved ones by way of video, and one man even watched his child being born. Just because life may exist or even temporarily have its joys, doesn’t mean it is normal. In our world of unbelieving men, some opt to merely endure or enjoy the present, not knowing there is an eternally satisfying deliverance from above. Christ said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)

Rescue was by willing participation. Not one miner refused to put himself into the slim and confining capsule, exercising deliberate personal faith in the cable hooked to the powerful winch above. It would seem strange if any, when offered the saving ride, had refused. Yet millions reject the solitary way out of sin’s personal condemnation by rejecting Christ, who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) And sadly, many a home is fractured when a dad, mom, son or daughter opts out of familial unity in refusing to be joined to the rest of the spiritual family by rejecting Christ.

The rescue brought men from darkness to light. They had spent so much time in artificial light that sunglasses were necessary to protect their eyes, but none would have chosen to remain in the dark. The Apostle Paul describes it this way: “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.” (Colossians 1:13-14) Peter wrote of those who are born again, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

A strong cable made deliverance possible. While watching the cable draw the willingly rescued from the dark depths to the sunlit heights, a further spiritual illustration came to me. Hebrews 6:19-20 uses maritime terminology to show how Christ draws the ship of faith into the final harbor. “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” The forerunner was a small ship that carried a larger ship’s anchor attached by a long rope into the snug harbor. Unable to directly sail in on its own, the larger ship was then slowly but safely winched into the secure anchorage.

In doomed Jericho, believing Rahab was to hang a scarlet cord from her window, a sign of faith and guarantee of protection (Joshua 2:18). There is a scarlet cord of redemption running through the Bible. It represents the shed blood of Christ, which when grasped, draws one to safety.

There was a type of rebirth. Recurring phrases and actions reminded me of spiritual salvation: “back from the dead” … “another birth” … “like they are born again” … “reborn.” The “rebirth” concept did flavor the entire operation, but there is a spiritual rebirth that is even more important. Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’” (John 3:5-7)

God was at work in a wrenching situation. Already, there are reports of decisions for spiritual salvation among the miners below ground and their families on the surface above. Perhaps their stories will bring others to a saving knowledge of Christ. The psalmist wrote, “I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry, He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock and established my steps. He has put a new song in my mouth—praise to our God; Many will see it and fear, and will trust in the Lord.” (Psalm 40:1-3)

God’s role in the rescue was acknowledged. The men wore t-shirts with “Thank you Lord!” on the front and “Jesus” on the sleeve. On the back was Psalm 65:4: “In His hand are the deep places of the earth; the heights of the hills are His also,” and the phrase “To God be the honor and glory.” Some miners fell on their knees in prayer as soon as they left the capsule. Others waved small Bibles. One miner wrote that there were 34 in the mine, not 33, meaning God was present making hope and endurance possible.

There were messages of love. While in the mine, the men wrote love notes to their families. Observers at the top of the rescue shaft, the site of “rebirth,” report that every delivered miner said to the family members designated to greet them, “I love you.” In three words, that could be the theme of the entire Bible. God simply says, “I love you.”

There was rejoicing over each rescued man. As each of the 33 miners and then the six rescue workers was pulled from the depths, there were cheers and shouts. President Pinera stood there for 24 hours and welcomed each man. Joyous tumult complete with echoing cheers was heard across Chile and around the world. It is a comparative whisper when we consider the “joy in the presence of the angels” over one repenting sinner (Luke 15:10)!

The mission wasn’t complete until all were rescued. As I began writing this blog, not all the men were safely above ground. No one would be completely relieved until the last man was out. I thought of the completion of the New Testament church. We cannot rest in reaching out with the Gospel until the last person to be saved is saved. God is taking out a people for His Name (Acts 15:14). Each reborn believer is delivered into the Lord’s kingdom one person at a time. The individual raising of those 33 miners is a fitting expression of the Lord’s personalizing the spiritual rebirth experience for each newborn child. Mass evangelism may be possible, but God saves people one at a time.

Now that all are rescued, everyone is going home. In the aftermath, things are quieting down. Everyone is safe and sound. The families have left with their loved ones. The media are taking down their equipment and crews are going home. The area will revert to the quiet desert it was before the shaft was drilled since the mine will be closed forever. The rescue is complete.

Perhaps very soon, that last person to be saved and be joined to the growing New Testament church will be lifted to safety through personal faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Christian workers will go Home accompanied by the great throng in whose deliverance they had a small part in sharing the Gospel. There will be a split second shout and a trumpet blast, and the whole family of God will be Home at last.

“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)

I have been reminded of the words of the old hymn by Charles Gabriel:

In loving kindness Jesus came,
My soul in mercy to reclaim,
And from the depths of sin and shame
Thru grace He lifted me.

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!

Dave Virkler

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Common Solutions for Economic Crisis

Its name pretty much describes its goal. It is called simply ‘debt consolidation’.

Wikipedia defines it like this. “Debt consolidation entails taking out one loan to pay off many others. This is often done to secure a lower interest rate, secure a fixed interest rate or for the convenience of servicing only one loan. Debt consolidation can simply be from a number of unsecured loans into another unsecured loan, but more often it involves a secured loan against an asset that serves as collateral, most commonly a house. Debt consolidation is often advisable in theory when someone is paying credit card debt. Credit cards can carry a much larger interest rates than even an unsecured loan from a bank."

In the United States the Federal Direct Student Loan Program (FDSLP) allows students to consolidate school loans into one single debt. Consolidation loans have longer terms than other loans. Debtors can choose terms of 10–30 years. The Federal Loan Consolidation Program was created in 1986.

It is no secret that America is in an extended economic funk even though some claim it is beginning to show signs of recovery. But many families are in serious trouble and some are in, or are falling into, straggling debt. A good number have lost their homes or been forced into bankruptcy. Many struggle and live from pay check to pay check – and these are the fortunate ones in that they at least are employed. Many are not! And while this is the harsh reality for a certain percentage of the nation’s citizenry, there are others for whom the current recession is not even a blip on their financial screen due to their adequate, or more than adequate, personal resources. There are many who can’t even relate to what financial ills can be like since they may never have them in this life.

But for those in economic crisis, and for those not even close, there remains a serious debt problem – one owed equally across the entire economic spectrum. And it is not limited to this nation. It is a literal form of birth defect that does not consider one’s economic status - but only his or her heart’s spiritual condition. It is there whether they know about it or not. And it is a debt no person can pay off by consolidation, borrowing, or any other means of creative financing. It is the all-consuming debt of personal sin. And it is an issue that has caused everyone ever born to enter instantly into a life of spiritual bankruptcy. This is also an eternal debt and, unless properly paid off in time, it will bring its unimaginable consequences to bear on a soul forever.

The debt owed to God by every man and woman ever born can’t be paid off by anything they ever do, invent, or attempt. It is that serious, that destructive, and that far beyond them. But the amazing part of this all-encompassing dilemma is that it has already been paid for in full – meaning that everyone’s ‘sin slate’ may be wiped fully clean forever and in the blink of any eye.

Perhaps the most concise example of this instant and full forgiveness was demonstrated when the Son of God hung on a cruel Roman cross between two condemned thieves. His express reason for being there was to fully pay the debt of their sin, and in the process, those of the entire world. The one criminal rebuked and scorned Christ as they all suffered intensely there. But the other somehow instinctively knew that Jesus was more than just someone dying at the cruel hands of those in charge. This man admitted his own guilt and the debt of sin he owed before God. It was at that precise time that he turned to Jesus with some sincere words that were both unexpected but profoundly meaningful and theologically correct.

Verse 40 of Luke 23 shares the historic moment. “But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, "Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong." Then he said to Jesus, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom." Verse 43 then reveals the amazing conclusion and the renewed destination for a wicked man who seconds earlier owed a debt he had no time or ability to pay. “And Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise." When this poor soul who had lived a vile life said in verse 42, “Lord”, it was an actual acknowledgement of the deity of Christ and the Lord’s ability to deal with and forgive a lifetime of sin.

While a nation’s economy continues to stagger and stumble, so do many of its people. And again, there are others who suffer few economic consequences or pain and perhaps never will. But 1 Timothy 6:17-19 has insightful words for those for whom a recession or a depression is only a word. Paul says there, “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.”

And then Ephesians 2:4-9 expresses what really matters in this life and the next and what the true definition of wealth is for those who have nearly everything and for those who have nearly nothing.

“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

The Bible assures that Jesus Christ is the Savior of all men. (1 Timothy 4:10) He is the only lasting solution to mankind’s universal spiritual poverty and the only One who can effectively deal permanently with eternal bankruptcy!

Bill Breckenridge