Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Costly Lane-Change

The 10,000-meter men’s speed-skating event at the Vancouver Olympics gave the record books an infamous historic “first.” Holland’s—and the world’s for that matter—most famous long-distance skater, Sven Kramer, appeared to have won another gold medal. But he skated into a tragic athletic catastrophe and uttered three searing words intended for his errant coach: “Are you stupid?” We have yet to hear a reasonable answer, but when it comes, the inference will be, “Yes, I’m stupid.” It’s not a matter of intelligence but rather a matter of attention.

In speed-skating, skaters remain in their own lane since they are racing against the clock. Everyone must skate the same distance, so the oval track requires a specific number of lane changes. As Kramer approached one of the straight sections on the 17th lap, he faltered in a moment of indecision. It appeared that he would stay in the outside lane, but he swung his right leg over the marker opting to go inside and sped on, flying past the finish line in record time. But instead of gaining another gold medal, he was disqualified from the race and sat dejectedly with nothing, obliged to watch the second-place Korean skater take his golden victory lap.

Kramer’s fleeting moment of lane change came on the yelled instructions of his coach, Gerald Kempers, who signaled from the sidelines. Kramer was reported to say after the race, “This is really an expensive mistake.” One reporter wrote, “It would have been an Olympic record, but now it is reduced to a historic footnote.” A distressed Dutch teammate declared that it was “all your bad dreams coming true.” While a Dutch teammate did advance to win the bronze, his victory was soured, and he said, “You don’t want to win a medal like this….”

And the coach is in big trouble as all Holland’s hopes were dashed. Someone suggested he might need the “witness protection program” when he returns home.

The mistake is indelibly etched in Kramer's memory and is indeed a pathetic Olympic footnote. More serious is the biblical warning of lost crowns in the spiritual race for kingdom rewards. In addition to salvation as a free gift, believers have personal credits for obtaining crowns in the race of life. “If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:14-15)

Salvation is by faith, but rewards are from faithfulness—those necessary lane changes in the will of God. Our Coach never issues flawed instructions, but sin, distraction or indifference can sometimes garble the commands. There is never a problem with the Lord’s directions, but there is plenty wrong with our personal reception. Kramer obeyed his coach, who had it wrong. When we disobey our unerring Coach, we get it wrong and we “suffer loss.”

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

Even crowns that seem to be gained can be lost as Revelation 3:11 warns, “Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.” And II John 8 says, “Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward.”

Believers need not only to finish the course but to finish it accurately, in the proper lane. We all know the race begins with birth and ends with either our death or the Lord’s coming. Between those benchmarks are countless decisions—lane changes we might say—that need the best coaching possible. That is available from the Lord through prayer, Bible study and sometimes wise counsel from godly people. The prophet Ezra said it well. “… that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him the right way for us and our little ones and all our possessions” (Ezra 8:21).

Olympians compete “to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.” (1 Cor. 9:25c).

Dave Virkler

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Consumer Confidence In Crisis?

The story was called simply, “Consumer confidence falls sharply,” a title that speaks for itself.

The Associated Press is reporting that Americans' outlook on the economy went into relapse in February. Apparently it was the rising job worries that caused a key barometer of confidence to fall to its lowest point in 10 months. The drop raises even deeper concerns about any soon-coming or meaningful financial recovery. The Consumer Confidence Index fell almost 11 points to 46 in February, down from a revised 56.5 in January. February's reading is well below the 61.4 figure in September 2008, when the financial crisis intensified with the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

The increasing pessimism is a large blow to hopes that consumer spending will power an economic recovery – something extremely unfortunate since job numbers don’t typically improve until after a recovery in consumer spending and confidence.

In many ways any monetary system is based on faith and confidence. The two are inseparable and are the foundation of any modern society. Remove either and trouble soon follows. Sometimes even total collapse! The same holds true in spiritual matters with one notable exception. Faith and confidence in the God of the Bible never falters. He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and fully immutable, meaning He never changes from age to age as Malachi 3:6 records. "For I am the LORD, I do not change.” That same thought is echoed in Hebrews 13:8 where the writer states, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today , and forever.”

Confidence is really key in practically every of area of life. It certainly comes into play for marital and other relationships. We believe that our employers will fairly compensate for work performed. We have confidence that the vehicles we drive are built safely and that others will obey the all-important rules of the road. We trust those who fly the friendly skies and who perform critical medical procedures to be fully competent in their chosen field. We never think twice about having full confidence in the labels that describe our food and medicine. And we trust our federal government and police force to protect us from outside and inner aggression by those who rebel against common decency and the laws of the land.

In reality, it is hard to find a slice of life where having confidence is not the backbone in one way of another. And yet, every area mentioned above, and some that were not, have the potential to have that sacred trust twisted or shattered all together. Toyota has admitted that some of their cars are faulty and dangerous. Thousands of needless accidents occur due to careless driving. The divorce rate is still off the chart in America and elsewhere. Malpractice suits abound when doctors misdiagnose an illness or a cure. Even our food and water is suspect at times and can cause occasional sicknesses or death. Nothing in this life is worthy of blind confidence, no matter how important or what category.

But there is a God who deserves and commands total confidence. His track record has been perfect from the foundation of the world. Verses abound that substantiate the need, logic, and striking benefits of placing full confidence in His word, ways, and will. Psalm 118:8-9 puts it like this. “It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in princes.” The wisdom of Proverbs adds, “In the fear of the LORD there is strong confidence, and His children will have a place of refuge." (Proverbs 14:26)

The writer of Hebrews also chimed in chapter ten stating, “Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise.” (Hebrews 10:35-36)

Confidence in Christ is the key issue in this life and the next. Nothing else matters, nothing else is secure, and nothing else give true and lasting peace. And those who would please Him need only to know and apply the simple, but life-altering, command found in 1 John 2:28. “And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.”

Life is a precious and priceless gift. It is often filled with great joy and meaningful events. But life also includes certain hardships and sometimes overwhelming difficulties. But for the child of God, there is always the blessed reality and the divine benefit described in Proverbs 3:26.

"For the LORD will be your confidence, And will keep your foot from being caught."

Bill Breckenridge

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Miracle of Miracles?

Hockey is in the headlines again after the 2010 American Olympic team overcame the odds to beat a highly favored Canadian club in their own backyard in the first round of the Vancouver Winter Games. The talented Team Canada is reeling from the loss as is an entire nation where the sport reaches, and often exceeds, the status of religion. The U.S. team now holds in their hands their own destiny.

Speaking of destiny, it was 30 years ago today that a small young group of unknown mostly college hockey players did the unthinkable, if not the impossible. At the Lake Placid Olympics the amateur American team faced and eventually defeated the world’s most formidable pro hockey machine from the then Soviet Union. The victory was quickly dubbed “Miracle On Ice”, since the opposition had won the previous four Olympic titles and 14 of the previous 17 world championships.

But the unlikely defeat of Russia’s longtime dominant squad greatly exceeded the realm of sport. It was global. It became a miniature representation of two nations waging what was then called “The Cold War”. The Soviets were devastated at the upstart kids whose performance shed doubt around the world on what the Communist nation claimed to be a superior way of life. History would also prove them wrong not long after the U.S Hockey team proved them vulnerable.

The most memorable moment from the 1980 gold medal run was considered the single greatest moment in all of sports. Its stunning memory would be memorialized by the words from then commentator Al Michels who, with just seconds left, shouted to the world, “Do you believe in miracles?

”Wikipedia encyclopedia defines a miracle as “an unexpected event attributed to divine intervention. Sometimes an event is also attributed (in part) to a miracle worker, saint, or religious leader. A miracle is sometimes thought of as a perceptible interruption of the laws of nature. Others suggest that God may work with the laws of nature to perform what people perceive as miracles. Theologians say that, with divine providence, God regularly works through created nature yet is free to work without, above, or against it as well."

For a miracle to truly be just that does require divine intervention even when God does make use of flawed people to achieve His ends. The Bible is littered with God-designed miracles in the Old and New Testament alike. Most would think of the miracles of Jesus when he turned water to wine, fed thousands with fragments, healed the sick, and even raised the dead on occasion.

But the greatest miracle of God, hands down, is often over looked even by those who experience it firsthand. The Bible describes miracle number one as being “born-again". To end any doubt concerning its importance, Jesus spoke of it clearly and powerfully in John’s Gospel, chapter three. In verses 5-7 He stated to an inquisitive Nicodemus, “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.” The Savior left no room for other options – period!

In the spiritual realm, the famous line, “Do you believe in miracles?” is more than just a clever collection of memorable words describing a monstrous historical event. The reason is profound. Ultimately it is belief that matters in life, death, and eternity, but not the basic belief that there is a supernatural being somehow and somewhere as James 2:19 assures, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe — and tremble.”

The belief that leads to redemption is all about a believing faith and sincere trust in a Savior who alone can forgive sin and cleanse the human heart - forever. It is the belief that brings about the condition Jesus spoke of to Nicodemus. And although numerous places substantiate this great theological truth, it is nowhere better seen than in 1 John 5:11-13.

“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.”

When the members of the 1980 U.S. gold metal hockey team someday individually stand before their Creator, He will in no way be interested in their famed "Miracle On Ice". In that most sobering of all moments, He will instead be asking only this. Do you believe in the 'miracle of all miracles' - the forgiveness of your sins through personal faith in My Son's sacrifice on Calvary's cross?

Bill Breckenridge

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Hidden Is Now Known

Nine years ago, a CIA-supervised Peruvian Air Force fighter fired lethal bullets into an innocent missionary aircraft that was transporting Jim and Veronica “Roni” Bowers and their two young children on a flight to obtain necessary legal papers for their seven-month old daughter, Charity. For fully an hour and a half, American CIA spotters were in contact with the Peruvian pilots discussing the shoot-down of a suspected drug-running plane.

Having filed the necessary flight plans and on the only frequency he knew with the Peruvian control tower, pilot Kevin Donaldson screamed into the radio mic, “They’re killing us!” They did indeed kill Roni Bowers and her beloved baby girl. Although his legs were badly mangled by the same lethal bullet, Donaldson managed an incredible crash landing of the floatplane on the river as flames shot through the cabin and then danced ominously, as gasoline spilled on the water after landing. Jim, his son Cory and Kevin somehow got out of the doomed plane pulling Roni and Charity after them.

Although the CIA denied blame at the time, dogged efforts by Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra, the Bowers’ representative, obtained release of the voice recordings and videos made by the CIA spotter plane crew that tragic April day in 2001 in the Peruvian jungles. It reveals that no positive identification of the missionaries’ plane was made and that the CIA observers said they felt they were making a big mistake but proceeded with the shoot-down regardless. After the past two years of relentless pressure from Hoeskstra, the CIA now admits to numerous procedural errors and has disciplined 16 CIA operatives.

Jim Bowers’ faith shone through the debacle. At a service held in their sending church in Fruitport, Michigan, he a moving testimony to God’s miraculous goodness at the memorial service for his wife and daughter. Jim later sent a Bible to the pilot who shot them down and said that he bore no ill will. Jim remarried, this time to another missionary servant, and son Cory is doing well in his mid-teens. Pilot Kevin Donaldson recovered and flies for missionary causes on another foreign field.

A flood of missionary candidates presented themselves for service after learning about the Bowers’ former ministry to hundreds of villagers along the Amazon River from their 55-foot houseboat. The Bowers’ sending mission organization, the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism, reported astounding global interest in their outreach for Christ as a result of the shoot-down. Congressman Hoekstra of the Bowers’ Michigan district can rest in the fact that his efforts brought truth to light even after so many years.

The truth will always prevail whether in time or eternity. Christ explained this triumph of accurate exposure in Matthew 10:26. “Therefore do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.” After nine years, some CIA agents are deeply shamed while faithful Christian servants are clearly exonerated.

These valiant through misused servants of Christ reflect the amazing virtue of Revelation 12:11. “And they overcame him (the Devil) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.” Such is the hazard of Christian service, and Jim and Veronica Bowers knew it on departing for the field. Their deputation picture presentation from 1993 contained a song which they personally adopted:

And if God should choose,
And my life I might lose,
Though my foe may slay me
I will serve the Lord.

Dave Virkler

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Casual Christianity

The title is “Casual Christianity and the Future of America”. The source is the Barna Group Ltd., an organization that tracks the religious side of the American culture.

This time Barna’s research centered around what he calls the ‘7 Tribes’ that represent the overall spiritual views, values and practices of the nation. The findings of the survey stemmed from more than 30,000 randomly selected adults.

The report found that the largest group in America was what they termed the ‘Casual Christian Tribe’. This segment actually comprises a full 2/3 of the population. That was followed by the ‘Captive Christian Tribe’ that numbered some 16%. Mormons, Jews, Pantheists, Muslims and finally Skeptics made up all the other groups.

When George Barna was asked what drove the largest ‘Casual Christian’ group he stated, “The comfort that this approach provides. It offers them life insights if they choose to accept them, gives them a community of relationships if they desire such, fulfills their inner need to have some type of connection with a deity, and provides the image of being a decent, faith-friendly person. Because Casuals do not view matters of faith as central to one’s purpose or success in life, this brand of Christianity supplies the multi-faceted levels of satisfaction and assurance that they desire.” He also said of this segment, “Casual Christians are defined by the desire to please God, family, and other people while extracting as much enjoyment and comfort from the world as possible."

Barna further defined Casuals as “Faith in moderation. It allows them to feel religious without having to prioritize their faith. Christianity is a low-risk, predictable proposition for this tribe, providing a faith perspective that is not demanding. A Casual Christian can be all the things that they esteem: a nice human being, a family person, religious, an exemplary citizen, a reliable employee – and never have to publicly defend or represent difficult moral or social positions or even lose much sleep over their private choices as long as they mean well and generally do their best. From their perspective, their brand of faith practice is genuine, realistic and practical. To them, Casual Christianity is the best of all worlds; it encourages them to be a better person than if they had been irreligious, yet it is not a faith into which they feel compelled to heavily invest themselves. This particular tribe is comprised of significant proportions of minimally active born again Christians and moderately active but theologically nominal Christians.”

In second place came the “Captive Christian Tribe”. These were defined as “Captives are focused on upholding the absolute moral and spiritual truths they glean from the Bible. The lives of Captive Christians are defined by their faith; their worldview is built around their core spiritual beliefs and resultant values.

Barna then described the major difference between the two groups that make up 80% of the adult population. He said that Casuals embrace the main tenets of the faith, but then added, “There are also difficulties raised when people do not stand for anything or cannot identify the truths that are worth championing.

From a spiritual vantage point, that is especially important if moral and spiritual truths are all considered to be relative. Casual Christianity, because of its moral receptivity and pliability, generally eliminates spiritual backbone from moral discussions. This particular tribe is comprised of significant proportions of minimally active born again Christians and moderately active but theologically nominal Christians.” The report added, “Captive Christians consider Casuals to not be genuine followers of Christ.”

It is difficult to know the true inner hearts and motives of anyone claiming to be a Christian believer although outer actions and activities might provide certain clues. The ability to know for sure is God’s alone. He knows each heart intimately and will judge each accordingly.

With that said, Scripture would seem to side more with those who take the faith more seriously and who put their own needs and wants as secondary. Jesus in Matthew 6:33 declared, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

The classic examples of doing this without compromise is revealed In Hebrew chapter eleven. This famous passage, sometimes called ‘God’s Hall of Faith’ describes early believers who took their faith so seriously as to suffer unthinkable abuse rather than cave in or live out their faith half-heartedly. Verses 35-37 show the amazing extent of their convictions. Some achieved great things for God and then there were the ‘others’. “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.”

Persecution on this level does not occur unless one’s faith is an outward priority.

The verse 38 then says of these ‘Captive-like Christians’, “Of whom the world was not worthy”. And verse 30 states, “And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith.” And in verses13-16 of the chapter the writer adds, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.” I wonder which kind of Christians today would represent God best and enjoy His approval as did these?

There may be certain things in life where being casual is adequate and sometimes preferable. But a casual attitude toward God is not among them! The Holy Spirit, through the writer’s pen, reveals what ‘must’ be done and to what level it ‘must’ be done to fully please God and be fully blessed by Him. “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." (Hebrews 11:6)

Only a truly diligent faith will be an effective and driving faith!

Bill Breckenridge

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Valentine’s Day and the Meaning of Love

Judging by TV ads, Valentine’s Day is beginning to rank close to Christmas for pushing romantic items such as perfume and jewelry. I noticed that custom pajamas and snuggly teddy bears were touted as really desirable gifts, even “unforgettable” as one ad put it.

Valentine’s Day is obliquely both poignantly religious and grossly secular in its origins, a kind of eclectic amalgamation suited to personal tastes whatever one’s bent. Secular legend has it that a pagan day on February 14 honoring Juno, the king of gods and goddesses, was a time when young women put their names on slips of paper and placed them in a jar. In a kind of love lottery, young men would draw a name, and the signer became his special friend for the day or longer, sometimes a year. One strand of the story has this done in all youthful innocence while another has an immoral relationship woven in.

The religious aspect comes from the memory of a priest named St. Valentine. The Roman emperor of the third century, Claudius, desired to raise an army for military exploits but had few volunteers because men resisted leaving their families for extended periods of time. To solve this dissent, the emperor abolished all engagements and weddings, but St. Valentine continued to secretly marry couples. Valentine was discovered, imprisoned, and sentenced to death for his crime. The prison keeper’s daughter spent time with Valentine encouraging him. Shortly before his death on February 14, he sent her a last note. It was signed, “Love, from your Valentine.”

As time went by, the church substituted saints’ names for those of women in the jar and “christianized” the date that formerly honored Juno.

Valentine’s Day will always be an interweave of religious and secular, but Christian believers understand that every day is Valentine’s Day in the context of God’s loving redemption in Christ. John 3:16 is always God’s supreme gesture. “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.”

St. Valentine’s devotion to Christian marriage and his self-sacrifice for his conviction is but a dim reflection of redemption’s love in Christ, “Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father” (Galatians 1:4).

It is regrettable that Valentine’s Day is often degraded by lust and licentiousness with such generic terms as “lover” and “partner.” The terms “sweetheart” or even “spouse” would cast it toward a biblical perspective.

Speaking of love, the Greek language in which the New Testament was written had three words for love -- eros, phileo and agape. Eros is a term of raw lust or mere human appetite and is not found in the Bible. Phileo describes a fondness or friendship love and is often used in the Bible for human and even divine love.

Agape is usually defined as uniquely God’s love (as in John 3:16), the highest kind, but that is only partially true. Agape love is really love for its own sake, a bestowal of attention and affection apart from any feeling or romantic passion. It is love that is based on objective truth and not on subjective sentiment.

My favorite New Testament example of the use of the word agape is the Pharisees of Jesus’ day who “loved (agape) the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:43). A close second is John 3:19. “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved (agape) darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”

When put into the context of God’s love, agape is objective love sent in our direction just because of God’s valuation on our assigned inherent worth to Him not our self-generated goodness or devotion to God. Romans 5:8 declares, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Paul’s worst sins hadn’t been committed yet when Christ died but Jesus died for him regardless. 1 John 4:19 reaffirms this objective, unearned love: “We love Him because He first loved us.”

Agape love is love for its own sake, not because we are such nice people or worthy in any way but because God’s grace was directed toward us arising out of His sovereign will to do so. This unique selfless love is the theme of countless Scriptures and poetic rhymes across church history. Perhaps the most stirring words ever were written by Frederick Lehman in 1917:

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.

When hoary time shall pass away,
And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
When men who here refuse to pray,
On rocks and hills and mountains call,
God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
All measureless and strong;
Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
The saints’ and angels’ song.

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure—
The saints’ and angels’ song.

Dave Virkler

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Supersized Superbowl

The Superbowl is always a big deal – a very big deal indeed! It has literally risen to holiday status and really attracts more attention than do the smaller holidays. The money spent between tickets, parties, travel, advertising, merchandise, and the legal and illegal gambling is staggering and certainly not indicative of a struggling economy

!But this year’s super game was big in another way – the way that makes the NFL and those who use the game’s forum to push their products through it thrilled. Superbowl 44 was not only the most watched NFL championship ever, but it was also the single most watched TV event of all time. Some 106.5 million watched the contest and an estimated 150 million saw at least 6 minutes or more. The new television champion exceeded the numbers that watched the finale of M*A*S*H back in 1983 by ½ million.

These impressive numbers may remind some students of Scripture of a far more amazing moment described in the New Testament book of Revelation. An exiled Apostle John speaks of a future time – one that will make the numbers attributed to the Superbowl pale in comparison both in quantity and in eternal importance.

Chapter one begins by describing the love of God and the resulting forgiveness of sin through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. But the subject then shifts in verse 7 to a coming to a stunning moment with sobering results – something predicted to be watched fully by everyone alive at the time. John writes there. “Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.” There will be in that great day two opposing reactions to the coming of Christ. One will be of overwhelming joy by those who know Him and the other overpowering dread by those who don’t.

The reaction of all who ignored or rejected Christ at that time is painfully described in Revelation 6:15-16. “And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!”

The opposite reaction will be the unimaginable joy and superb praise offered from those who trusted Christ as their Savior and were thereby properly prepared for this most awesome occurrence. Their spiritual response will include the kind of activity described in John’s vision beginning later in the fifth chapter of the prophecy. It will the beginning stage of a heavenly-based and eternal state of praise and worship.

Verse 11 declares, “Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!"

A glorious future of reward and worship awaits every true believer in Jesus Christ. But until that blessed moment arrives , the attitude and lifestyle of God’s people should be reflected by that which is also described through John’s pen in the third chapter of his first letter.

“Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” (1 John 3:2-3)

Bill Breckenridge

Monday, February 8, 2010

Say Goodbye To Superbowl 44

Superbowl 44 is in the books – complete with great action, high drama, surprise plays, and a few new records for America’s biggest sporting event. The NFL’s flagship game this time lived up to most of the hype and provided viewers with one of the better games in recent memory. The 31-17 victory by the Saints of New Orleans was the first ever championship in the franchise’s rather disappointing history. The win was also an emotional lift for the area that has struggled ever since that disaster that was Hurricane Katrina.

Unfortunately for the Colts all-star quarterback Payton Manning the contest may well tarnish his otherwise amazing legacy and give his detractors added fuel about his not being able to come through in the big games. Manning has won just one Superbowl, which is not quite enough for football immortality when considering his legendary regular season statistics and near miraculous performances.

Manning’s counterpart, Drew Brees, won the game MVP and tied a record for the most completed passes in the mega-event. When accepting the coveted trophy after the game, the outspoken Christian said, among other things, “God is great”.

The Superbowl is the pinnacle of football, and of all professional sporting events for that matter. Winning it guarantees one a unique place in a small famed fraternity. But with that said, its true importance in the larger scheme of life and death is questionable at best. The reality is that few, other than the respective team’s fans and the victorious players themselves, will be able to even recall who won this, or any Superbowl, ten years down the road. Like anything in life, things that have only earthly value will eventually have no real or lasting impact in the eternal realm. Without question, winning a championship, on any level, is a superbly great feeling – but again for exactly how long?

When Brees stated that ‘God is great’ his praise also revealed a basic, but equally great, theological truth. Not only does Scripture indicate the infinite power and greatness of the Creator, but it assures that His greatness will endure throughout time and eternity. His glory will never, ever fade away as will all earthly accomplishments, no matter how great they may seem at the time.

Titus chapter two speaks to and confirms the absolute greatness of both the heavenly Father and His Savior-Son, Jesus Christ. In verses 11-14 we find, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.”

Then, too, Hebrews 4:14 echoes that truth and specifies the official spiritual office of the Savior. “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.” Also, the greatness of what He accomplished through His sacrifice on the cross is spelled out in Hebrews 2:3 – but in question form. “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him.”

Superbowl 44 was a great game, characterized with some great moments, as achieved by great players. The joy and satisfaction for the victorious teams and fans alike may well last a lifetime. But then what? What comes next?

As the glory of great earthly moments begins to fade, and they all will, all that will matter will be owning an intimate knowledge of God’s infinite greatness. What will ultimately count is a true possession of personal faith in the great redemptive promises of Christ, as passages like 2 Peter 1:2-4 boldly proclaim!

“Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”

Breez had it right. God is great as is being one of His special people!

Bill Breckenridge

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Contrast in Beginnings

A sobering contrast in the western hemisphere exists between the founding of Haiti and the United States—the poorest and richest nations respectively.

Pat Robertson was harshly criticized for mentioning the startling truth that Haiti’s beginning was associated with a demonic pledge to obtain Haitian independence. Robertson did not say, as some alleged, that the earthquake was a direct result of God’s punishment. What he did say is that Haiti’s independence from the French was linked with a pact with the Devil, and Haiti has had trouble ever since. I am extremely careful to disassociate the quake from God’s specific judgement. What is apparent however is apparent is the historical record of Haiti’s voodoo beginnings.

A Wikipedia article sets out the issue saying, “The most historically important Vodou ceremony in Haitian history was the Bwa Kayiman or Boi Caiman ceremony of August 1791 that began the Haitian Revolution, in which the spirit Ezli Dantor possessed a priestess and received a black pig as an offering, and all those present pledged themselves to the fight for freedom. This ceremony ultimately resulted in the liberation of the Haitian people from French colonial rule in 1804, and the establishment of the first black people’s republic in the history of the world and the second independent nation in the Americas.”

The first independent nation in the western hemisphere was the Uuited States, which began in a prayer meeting honoring the Bible’s God. The account can be found on a number of websites. This one is from the American Christian History site.

Unable to meet in the traditional location for fear of retribution from England’s rule, the Continental Congress leaders assembled in Carpenter’s Hall in September of 1774 and voted to have a minister come and read Scripture, a decision that was not a simple one according to a letter written by John Adams to his wife:

“...When the Congress first met, Mr. Cushing made a motion that it should be opened with prayer. … Accordingly, next morning he appeared with his clerk and in his pontificals, and read several prayers in the established form; and then read the Collect for the seventh day of September, which was the thirty-fifth Psalm. You must remember this was the next morning after we heard the horrible rumor of the cannonade of Boston. I never saw a greater effect upon an audience.

“It seemed as if Heaven had ordained that Psalm to be read on that morning.

“...After this Mr. Duche, unexpected to everybody, struck out into an extemporary prayer, which filled the bosom of every man present. I must confess I never heard a better prayer, or one so well pronounced. Episcopalian as he is, Dr. Cooper himself (Dr. Samuel Cooper, well known as a zealous patriot and pastor of the church in Brattle Square, Boston) never prayed with such fervor, such earnestness and pathos, and in language so elegant and sublime – for America, for the Congress, for the Province of Massachusetts Bay, and especially the town of Boston. It has had an excellent effect upon everybody here ....

“Dr. Jacob Duche’s prayer in Carpenter’s Hall, Philadelphia given at the first meeting of the First Continental Congress in September, 1774 says,

‘Our Lord, our Heavenly Father, high and mighty King of Kings, Lord of Lords, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers upon the earth, and reignest with power supreme and, uncontrolled over all kingdoms, empires, and governments, look, down in mercy, we beseech thee, upon these American States who have fled to Thee from the rod of the Oppressor, and thrown themselves upon Thy gracious protection, desiring to be henceforth dependent only upon Thee. To Thee have they appealed for the righteousness of their cause.’ Duche ended, ‘All this we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Savior. Amen.’”

Dr. Peter Lillback, author of the website article, says that George Washington was part of that prayer meeting.

In 1875, the Library of Congress produced a placard summarizing the founders’ reports on the impact that this first prayer had on the Continental Congress. It reads,

“Washington was kneeling there, and Henry, Randolph, Rutledge, Lee, and Jay, and by their side there stood, bowed in reverence, the Puritan Patriots of New England, who at that moment had reason to believe that an armed soldiery was wasting their humble households. It was believed that Boston had been bombarded and destroyed. They prayed fervently ‘for America, for Congress, for the Province of Massachusetts Bay, and especially for the town of Boston,’ and who can realize the emotion with which they turned imploringly to Heaven for Divine interposition and – ‘It was enough’ says Mr. Adams, ‘to melt a heart of stone. I saw the tears gush into the eyes of the old, grave, Pacific Quakers of Philadelphia.’”

The contrast between the Haitian voodoo ceremony and the Congressional prayer meeting is stunningly obvious, and the divergent fortunes of the two original republics in the western hemisphere has been clear ever since. Haiti’s present hope is still our original hope. Let us all pray that true biblical spiritual revival will come to Haiti.

Dave Virkler

If They’re Awake, They’re Online

It is not shocking to anyone with kids, and to some without, that an entire generation of children and teenagers are fully submerged and hooked on screens through various forms of electronic media.

The Kaiser Family Foundation has just released a new study on the younger generation’s excessive online habits. They discovered the average to be more than 7 1/2 hours a day. That’s one third of their lives or nearly one half of their waking moments! Then add the ability and tendency to multitask, and they estimate that some absorb up to a combined 11 hours of media content in any given 7 1/2-hour time frame.

Over the last ten years, every type of media has seen an increase but one – reading. The report also noted the following device statistics. Some 66 percent of kids now own their own cell phone and 76 percent own an iPod or other MP3 player. The average American home owns 3.8 televisions, 2.8 DVD or VCR players, one or more digital video recorders, two computers, 2.3 console video game players, and other devices like the now old-fashioned CD players and radios.

Also discovered was that a surprising number of these ‘wired homes’ rarely turn all of their TV’s off! In addition, an increasing number of media devices are now invading kid’s bedrooms. Presently, a stunning 71% of 8-18-year olds have their own televisions there and half via cable. Another third own laptops with the majority of those having access to some form of high speed web capacity.

But the most sobering and frightening reality of it all might be that most kids have few, or no, concrete controls or limitations placed on how they use all of the above technology. Parents are sometimes unaware while others just don’t seem to care. Maybe they feel that their kids are generally good, or different, or even immune since they live in decent, or even church-going, homes. After all, they maintain, how harmful can all it all really be? To this attitude the Scriptures would offer the advice of 1 Corinthians 10:12, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”T

his ‘head in the sand’ parental view is part two of the problem – maybe even the largest of the two. It blindly allows precious children to be engrossed and, worse, ‘enlightened’ by whatever immoral or abnormal philosophy happens to infiltrate these highly susceptible minds and hearts. And this does not even count the other side of the two-edged sword of fast-growing sedentary lifestyle characterized by obesity and a lack of the most basic levels of physical fitness.

Unfortunately, the church of Jesus Christ is far from immune to this current cultural trend. Christians seem unable to realize the subtle, but very serious, reality that all sin first originates in the mind. James 1:14-15 points the pattern out like so. “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” It is proven and obvious that what enters the mind most often eventually controls the heart and then the body. This is particularly disturbing when considering how much precious time the typical kid, and even many adults, come under the negative influence of the secular mindset versus the positive impact of the few hours a week often spent on spiritual pursuits.

Not every single detail of every single idea coming from the modern culture is destructive or dangerous in and of itself. The larger issue should not be whether something is mentally or spiritually detrimental in some way. Instead, it should consider if something is helpful, positive, or inspirational in any way. Does it build up the mind and strengthen the soul or just waste far too much precious time and energy? Even those things that are basically decent and even enjoyable can be harmful if they distract the mind from what should be the proper priorities and purpose for life. This is especially true for Christians who are to love, obey, and serve God first and foremost. Matthew 6:33 sums it up briefly and concisely. “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

Christian adults are largely responsible before God for the thoughts and ideas they purposely invite into their minds. Also, those who are parents are likewise culpable for most of what shapes the thought processes of their impressionable younger children. Ignorance in this sphere will not be a suitable excuse when all stand before their Creator as His word has stated precisely the type of mental input His people should seek and absorb, and share.

“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8)

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Trafficking or Rescuing? - A Fine Line

Ten Americans are being held in Haiti on charges of child trafficking despite claims by theBaptist run "Haitian Orphan Rescue Mission" that they were simply trying to rescue traumatized children – and supposedly at the request of desperate parents there. The group planned to take the 33 kids, who ranged in age from 2 months to 12 years, to a hotel in the Dominican Republic but were stopped at the border for not having proper paperwork.

The Haitian government remains skeptical. Authorities insisted Monday that the Americans, however well-intentioned, must be prosecuted to send a strong message against child trafficking – a long enduring problem in the country.

Max Beauvoir, who is head of Haiti's Voodoo Priest's Association commented, "These types of people believe they need to save our souls and our bodies from ourselves. We need compassion, not proselytizing now, and we need aid — not just aid going to people of the Christian faith."

This extra mission of the "Haitian Orphan Rescue Mission" may have been a super cause butused a shaky method. In all likelihood, it was their compassion that drove them to try to doa helpful thing but in a harmful way. In hindsight, it would have been better had they tried to care for the needs of the youngsters on their home soil in Haiti until the fragile government there can sort out the chaos and lead hurting orphans into loving families.

As far as Voodoo Priest Beauvoir is concerned, he needs to reflect some and maybe reel in his negative attitude. Perhaps his gripe really comes more from being threatened. He needs to know that Christianity is made up of Christians and that Christians bear the very essence and image of the Christ for whom they are named and serve. And because of that, it has been His love acted on by Christian missionaries who alone run or support an estimated 2,000 primary schools attended by some 600,000 students in the country. That is a third of Haiti's school-aged population. Church groups also run vital hospitals, orphanages and food-distribution sites - all of which was happening even before the killer quake!

Christianity is not unconcerned with meeting the most basic physical needs of the poor and downtrodden. Jesus repeatedly evidenced that during his short earthly ministry. And to expect Christians to show Christ's compassion for the physical and ignore the need for spiritual nourishment is, well, non-Christian and therefore unnatural. Missionaries are fully aware of the dire needs of the body. They know well that these material concerns must be addressed along side of man's most desperate need - the salvation of the soul.

Matthew chapter four records the experience of Jesus when He faced His famed temptation by His arch adversary. The writer says at the outset of the chapter, "Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, "If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread." But He answered and said, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'"

The material that covers the majority of the planet is comprised of 2 basic elements - oxygen and hydrogen. Remove either, or alter the ratio, and you no longer have real water. The same idea is true of the Christian faith. James reveals the crucial nature of helping with the pressing material needs of others as a literal element of the faith. In chapter two he states, "If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:15-17)

Jesus also made known the value of providing for basic needs of the body using Himself as the illustration in Matthew 25:44-45. "Then they also will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?' Then He will answer them, saying, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.'

Meeting the temporal needs of the body in Christ's name is part of Christ's message. But dealing with spiritual needs of the human soul remains the supreme goal of the Creator. Paul shared this great truth in his first letter to a young pastor Timothy. "For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3-4)

God's consuming desire is to save all. And He does just that to all that come to Him in simple trusting faith. (Romans 10:13) As far as the appropriate time for proselytizing, Paul sheds the light of Scripture on that, too, in his follow-up letter to his son in the faith. "Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season." (2 Timothy 4:2)

If there was ever a group of people who find themselves 'out of season' it is the entire nation of Haiti. Their staggering physical and material needs today are extreme – rivaled and exceeded only by their need of the spiritual and eternal relief offered only by true and accurate Christianity!

Bill Breckenridge

Monday, February 1, 2010

Legacies of the Printed Word

Controversial novelist J. D. Salinger died last week at age 91. Although quite prolific, his applauded and denounced book "The Catcher in the Rye," which sold some 60 million copies world-wide, is regarded as his prominent life’s work. The imaginary tale of the adventures and fantasies of Holden Caulfield, an alienated youth deeply offended by adult hypocrisy, brought rave reviews.

Many schools were convinced to make Salinger’s work mandatory reading, but this brought harsh denunciations from traditional educators and parents who found Salinger’s work mostly indecent trash. The Christian Science Monitor, quoted in an article by Halle Italie, said, "One fears that a book like this given wide circulation may multiply his kind (Caulfield) – as too easily happens when immorality and perversion are recounted by writers of talent whose work is countenanced in the name of art or good intention."

Their fears were well founded. Salinger was on the early cusp of a torrent of rebellious, salacious literature, trickling out in the ’50s and swamping the culture in the ’60s—all issued in the name of realistic literary freedom.

Published in 1951, "The Catcher in the Rye" fostered a latent youth rebellion and rejection of conventional values, which sent some over the moral edge. One such troubled youth was Mark David Chapman who identified with Caulfield’s anger, mimicked Caulfield’s adventures, retraced his adventurous steps in the Big Apple and finally murdered rock icon John Lennon at the Dakota Hotel on December 8, 1980.

Chapman carried the book with him when he pulled the trigger five times. He stated that the book would explain his actions. He also read from the book at his sentencing. Later, from prison, Chapman wrote to Salinger saying the author was not responsible for his violence toward Lennon, but the book had its effect nonetheless.

Other infamous criminals also influenced by "Catcher" are John Hinckley, Jr. and Robert John Bardo. How many perversions were inspired by J.D. Salinger is anyone’s guess.

At the time of the book’s publication, the first wave of its impact sped through moral discussions, and its exponents were heard to say, "No book has ever degraded anyone," or something similar like, "No book has ever inspired evil." The wise answer to this nonsense is always, "If that’s true, then no one has been exalted by a book either," which caused someone to ask, "Why are school systems spending millions on text books if they do nothing either bad or good?"

Salinger became a recluse, hiding out in his obscure New Hampshire home. In 1998, his paramour Joyce Maynard published a gross and revealing immoral insight into her eight-year liaison with Salinger. In 2000, his daughter, Margaret, wrote a book entitled, "Dreamcatcher," portraying her father in the most unflattering terms. She outlined his weirdness and declared that she "was absolutely determined not to repeat with my son what he done with me."

Salinger drifted through Zen Bhuddism, Hinduism, Scientology, and spiritual, medical, and nutritional belief systems including Christian Science, homeopathy, acupuncture, macrobiotics, the teachings of Edgar Cayce, fasting, vomiting to remove impurities, megadoses of Vitamin C, urine therapy, speaking in tongues, and sitting in a Reichian "orgone box" to accumulate energy. His marriages and sexual escapades were several. Perhaps it is a strange coincidence that the word "salacious" and "Salinger," have identical first syllables.

Salinger’s legacy is a morbid proof of rejecting the redeeming morality of the Bible. People are, indeed, what they eat, whether it’s regular food intake or printed fare. Feasting on Salinger is like eating garbage, while ingesting God’s Word gives nourishing life and peace and productivity.

Paul put it so in Philippians 4:8-9. "Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy--meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you."

1 Corinthians 15:33-34 says, "Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company (translated as "communications" in some versions) corrupts good habits.’ Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame."

Mark David Chapman should know. With the same middle name as Salinger (Jerome David), he identified with Caulfield’s unhappy life. Although making a decision for Christ earlier in his life, Satan’s influence crept in as it did with so many in the wrenching ’60s through rebellion, drugs and sex. In his prison quarters at Attica, Mark is a quiet, joyful, committed believer in God’s forgiving grace, freely admitting his guilt and thankfully knowing God’s gracious forgiveness. Through his wife, who resides in Hawaii, a ministry of distributing his printed testimony reaches prisoners around the world.

Salingers and their "Catchers" may come and go, but God’s Word is still supremely permanent. Romans 5:20-21 shows the surpassing grace of God. "…But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."

1 Peter 1:23-25 says that believers have been "born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, because ‘All flesh is as grass, And all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, And its flower falls away, But the word of the LORD endures forever.’"

When Larry King asked Chapman whether or not the religion thing was merely a crutch, Chapman said, "Larry, if it’s a crutch, it is in the form of a cross."

With Salinger, it was all about corruption. With Scripture, it’s all about the cross. As H. G. Spafford wrote,

My sin—O the bliss of this glorious thought—
My sin, not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

Dave Virkler