Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Confidence In The Economy Still Sinking

Timothy Homan of Businessweek has addressed the ailing economy by stating, “Confidence among U.S. consumers sank in June more than forecast as Americans became distressed over the outlook for jobs and incomes."

Many factors are involved, like the continuing plunging of stocks and China’s economic outlook not improving as previously estimated. Unemployment and the turmoil in financial markets precipitated by the European debt crisis raised the risk that household spending will falter even more. On top of all the factors already eroding consumer confidence is the devastating impact of the Gulf oil spill – something that will worsen the situation in ways no one can predict.

It seems that plans to buy automobiles, appliances and homes declined in June. The percentage of people who said they intend to buy an automobile dropped to the lowest since records began in back in 1967. It seems that Americans under the age of 35, and those making from $15,000 to $24,999 a year, were affected most and had the biggest decreases in confidence this month.

What affects confidence is an interesting study. In all ways but one it has to do with beliefs about the external circumstances happening around a person or a group of people of any size. The lone exception mentioned above is the absolute and unbending confidence available to those who are grounded by a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. His ironclad guarantee to His redeemed people is stated boldly in John 10:27-29. “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.”

Not only are believers secure in their eternal relationship with their Lord, but so is their reward, according to Paul in Colossians chapter three. In verses 23-24 he declares, “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.”

The Bible forecasts that outrageous times would arise in the last days just before the Lord’s return. (2 Timothy 3:1) And perhaps the global financial meltdown figures prophetically into the current scenario and is helping to motivate the fears associated with it.

But for Christians, there remains a sense of hope, trust and blessing, provided they take to heart the advice given by the writer of Hebrews. “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)

Bill Breckenridge

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Just One More Time Lord?

In a recent letter from evangelist Billy Graham, the world-famous and extremely frail preacher has expressed an inner desire to proclaim the Good News of Christ just one more time. No one in history has preached to more people than Graham and only in heaven will the results of his ministry and the 6 decades of his organization be known. The number of those who found Christ may well be in the millions!

Despite his poor health and birthday number 92 around the bend, Mr. Graham is preparing one last message that he hopes to deliver if God gives him the strength to do so. He admits that his poor health may prevent his burning desire. But he boldly noted that James 5:16 declares that prayer is “powerful and effective” as he invited all to pray as co-workers in his dream.

He concluded his letter stating, “The result of your prayers and gifts is that people who once were lost now follow the Lord. As a result of your ministry, they will give glory to God.” (2 Corinthians 9:13) May God bless you in all the ways you serve Him.”

It is inspiring and downright amazing that Billy Graham would attempt to do something so obviously difficult at this stage in his life. But it is also striking how he ended his letter. His final words to those he addressed were again, “May God bless you in all the ways you serve Him.”

Serving God has been, and apparently still is, what life is all about for the world’s most famous evangelist. And his closing words were more than just a simple way to end his prayer letter. He assumed that those he wrote to were likewise serving their Lord and that they would be blessed as a result.

In Paul’s first letter to a young Thessalonian church, he offered what could be viewed as the ultimate compliment. In chapter one he stated, beginning in verse 8, “For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything. For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”

The faith, love, testimony and Christian service was so obvious and evident in this early assembly that Paul and his fellow-workers needed to add nearly nothing concerning the faith. When people thought of this church, they were immediately reminded of a people whose faith resulted in clear and outward action on behalf of the One who had saved them. Their faith was genuine and their lives confirmed it!

When anyone becomes a believer in Christ, a new life of eternally significant choices related to serving Him begins. Matthew 6:24 makes it abundantly clear that Christian service is not optional, part-time, nor can it be. Jesus himself confirmed this when He stated, "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

The Psalmist revealed what is to be the attitude of God’s people toward their Creator, including the aspect of serving Him fully. Psalm 100:2-5 declares, “Serve the LORD with gladness; come before His presence with singing. Know that the LORD, He is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. For the LORD is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations.“

Paul, in Galatians 5:13, spoke of the new life in Christ and its relationship to serving through Christian love. “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

The Christian life is first and foremost about serving God. Some believers never seem to get that. And Scripture assigns no visible limits concerning it. Therefore it should be done as long as you can, as well as you can, and using whatever gifts and opportunities you can.

The early Thessalonian church got it right. The Apostle Paul got it right. And Billy Graham apparently still has it right! The only question is, “Have you and I gotten it right?”

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Child Mortality Rates Increasing

The United Nations has revealed that ten African countries have halved their poverty rates over the last 20 years. That’s the good news. The not so good news is that, over the same time period, child mortality rates have increased in six of the sub-Saharan nations. These are the only regions in the world registering an increase in the under age 5 mortality rate, Thirty-four of the world's 36 countries with child mortality rates above 100 per 1,000 births are in sub-Saharan Africa.

The numbers have varied greatly. In Ghana, hunger levels were cut 75 percent between 1990 and 2004. But in the Democratic Republic of Congo, hunger levels more than doubled to 76 percent during the same period. Before the start of the World Cup the U.N. tried to underscore some of the vast differences between participating countries by comparing, for example, that life expectancy in Nigeria is 48 years compared with 75 years in Argentina. They noted that women in Ivory Coast are eight times more likely to die in childbirth than the women in Brazil.

The child mortality rate in Africa, and in some other select spots in the world like Afghanistan and Myanmar, is tragic and heartbreaking. Many of these precious souls have no literal chance to survive apart from outside intervention. For these, pain and death is a way of life and something that is beyond their ability to control or fix. Theirs is a life absent of hope.

It requires no special research to know that the opposite of suffering in Africa exists in America – even considering the recently struggling economy. But there is a growing form of poverty in the U.S., and one that exists on an entirely different level. It is not related to the physical or material, and for the most part, it is unnecessary and even voluntary!

For many years now, evangelical church leaders and theologians have claimed that America is fast becoming a post-Christian nation. Some feel the line has already been crossed and the results abound and are easily seen. It is not secret that the ways, word, and will of the God of the Bible have been gradually squeezed from the consciousness of the nation that was built on these very principles. Again, the evidence is fairly obvious in nearly every sphere of culture.

No, God is not dead in America. His remnant, the true church, still exists. But He is certainly ignored by the many millions who remain outside of His faith family and typically by choice. It can even be argued that that the present economic situation in the country stems, at least partly, from the nation’s leadership ignoring God and the principles spelled out in His word.

The ‘spiritual mortality rate’ in the U.S. is simply sobering. More and more older citizens die every day without Christ and growing numbers of the young never even learn who He is – something even the most basic Bible knowledge exam would quickly reveal. This is a challenge to the true believers since one key aspect of their salvation is to share Christ with those who are spiritually starving to death and already dead in sin according to Scripture. (Colossians 2:13) And again, this all remains sadly unnecessary in a nation with rich spiritual foundation and unlimited access to the claims of Christ.

The Bible’s most famous verse, John 3:16, makes it as clear as it can be. “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.” Amazingly, scores of the younger generation have no concept of this eternally life-changing truth!

But there is the good news, however, in the midst of the bad! The good news is that a loving God of mercy has blessed America both materially and spiritually. There are those who name the name of Christ and have accepted Him Savior and the Lord of their lives. And it is the responsibility of God’s redeemed people to attempt to help those less fortunate (Galatians 6:10) The seriousness of helping the poor, when possible, is revealed in rather strong terms especially in Proverbs 28:27. “He who gives to the poor will not lack, but he who hides his eyes will have many curses.”

The Christian’s greatest purpose and privilege is to consistently offer the only solution that can end the spiritual poverty that brings eventual devastating eternal consequences. This mandate is abundantly clear in Paul’s second letter to the fledgling church at Corinth.

“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.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)

Bill Breckenridge

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Oil And Water Still Don’t Mix

It has been two months since British oil company giant, BP, had one of their wells in the Gulf of Mexico explode, killing 11 employees and spewing unimaginable amounts of oil into the surrounding waters. It has become the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. No one can really even guess as to the extent of the damage caused thus far and how bad the future effects will be.

A few attempts to cap the ever-gushing monster have been futile, and Congress has grilled BP officials constantly about fixing the mega-mess. But still the oil comes and little by little spreads its deadly results in the water, under the water, and onto the shorelines of an area still trying to recover from the results of Hurricane Katrina.

Angry and frightened citizens are facing what some feel will be a literal end to the region’s economy and their entire way of life. In some cases, they may be exactly right if something is not done and fast! The President has proclaimed that the well will be stopped and the area will be even better ultimately than before. But words don’t stop a mile deep ruptured oil well. Physical solutions and actions do!

BP said it has spent over $2 billion in 2 months trying to deal with the disaster and trying to give aid to people whose businesses have been effected. Again, no one can predict what astronomical figure will be reached before this all becomes a sad nightmare of American history.

Many spiritual lessons can be learned from the BP situation. The obvious one might be Proverbs 27:1 where the writer warned his son, “Do not boast about tomorrow,For you do not know what a day may bring forth.” No one saw this tragedy coming and no one ever imagined something of this extent, and this difficult to contend with. And the entire world is no doubt perplexed that America’s resources and ingenuity has not been able to plug a single and relatively small hole under water for two months.

One other spiritual consideration has to do with the economic factor – the aspect that concerns most people the most. Billions are being lost and spent with the tally rising every minute to numbers that, again, no one can begin to predict. Few would now argue that the economical damage is simply off the chart. While this is true, there is a limit. Eventually there will be a resolution. There will be a finite number assigned of the final cost to BP and those hurt so badly by their underwater spill. But what some might be unaware of, or even disagree with, is that no matter what the final tab comes in at, it cannot begin to compare to the value of saving even one human soul from eternal judgement.

Romans 5:8 reveals what Christ did to save man from sin’s power and penalty despite the rebellion of the entire race. But in Mark chapter eight, He revealed the contrast between the material value of the entire world versus the soul of just one lost sinner for whom He died. In verse 36 the Savior asked the question of all questions and the one that separates what is ultimately important and what is not. “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”

The bottom line and biblical reality is this. The eternal destiny of the eleven souls alone who died when BP’s oil well went up in flames are more valuable than whatever price tag is placed on the spill – even if the black gold fills all the oceans of the earth!

Bill Breckenridge

Friday, June 18, 2010

Political Praying

Barack Obama’s first Oval Office speech has been touted as either wise or witless depending on one’s opinions and politics. Apart from outlining the oil spill’s tragedy, commending government response and condemning BP for the disaster, the President’s closing appeal to God’s help has aroused criticism for unreasonably focusing on invoking spiritual intervention in a secular crisis.

However, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, known for his religious articles, books and videos, said in an interview on Fox News that he was pleased that any president at any time for any reason seeks the help of a higher power. He added that he hoped Obama really believed what he said.

Referring to a traditional fishermen’s blessing, Obama closed his speech saying,

“The ceremony goes on in good times and in bad. It took place after Katrina, and it took place a few weeks ago—at the beginning of the most difficult season these fishermen have ever faced. And still, they came and they prayed. For as a priest and former fisherman once said of the tradition, ‘The blessing is not that God has promised to remove all obstacles and dangers. The blessing is that He is with us always,’ a blessing that’s granted ‘...even in the midst of the storm.’

“The oil spill is not the last crisis America will face. This nation has known hard times before and we will surely know them again. What sees us through—what has always seen us through—is our strength, our resilience, and our unyielding faith that something better awaits us if we summon the courage to reach for it. Tonight, we pray for that courage. We pray for the people of the Gulf. And we pray that a hand may guide us through the storm towards a brighter day.

“Thank you, God Bless You, and may God Bless the United States of America.”

We concur with Gingrich. It is high time high officials admit there are some things over which they have no control but God might intervene. While Obama’s prayer reference is that misty stuff of tepid civil religion and not all that we could hope for, it is a step in the right direction.

Prayer, as outlined in the Bible, involves repentance for obstinate sinning, admission of guilt and supplication to do right. Prayer is always a commendable exercise, but America—and particularly the current administration—needs a good dose of biblical perception and redirection.

Supporting abortion—killing millions of fully human unborn babies annually—is a national scandal. Supporting or even encouraging homosexual lifestyles is an abomination to God, corroding cultures and destroying nations. Mushrooming taxation and exploding debt fostered by wasteful and inept government is a scourge on the political and economic landscape and is “generational theft” of ghastly proportions. And substituting man’s earthly genius for God’s heavenly wisdom is a wretched snub of the Creator and Savior.

As is most always the case, the name of Jesus Christ—incarnate God, crucified, risen, ascended and coming again “King of kings and Lord of lords”—is conveniently left out of political praying. Christ is the only way to God according to John 14:6 and the solitary path to salvation as Acts 4:12 tells us. “God” can mean anything from Allah to Christ to a New Age myth. Intercessory specificity is notably absent in civil religious praying.

Let me be clear. Tangential political praying may salve the conscience, but it never saves the soul. God is welcome to graciously hear and answer any genuine plea for aid, but He always instantly responds to the simply cry of the sin-burdened who pleads, “God be merciful to me the sinner.” (Luke 18:13)

We hope that many troubled by the Gulf predicament will pray that prayer, be saved, and enter the close-knit company of the redeemed who always have God’s ear “in Jesus’ Name.”

Dave Virkler

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

When Bigger Is Not At All Better

An advisory committee for the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans has concluded that obesity will be this century’s greatest health threat. The report reveals that far too many consume far too much sugar and solid fats and are in desperate need of a more nutrient-rich, plant-based diet.The report is based on the latest scientific evidence and was prepared by a 13-member advisory committee of national nutrition and health experts.

At present, almost two-thirds of adults and a third of children are overweight or obese. To deal with the problem – one that causes so many short and long-term health issues, the advisory committee highlighted the following four major steps:

•Reduce overweight and obesity by cutting calorie intake and increasing physical activity.

• Shift to a more plant-based diet that emphasizes vegetables, cooked dry beans and peas, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds. In addition, increase the intake of seafood and fat-free and low-fat milk products, and consume only moderate amounts of lean meats, poultry and eggs.

•Significantly reduce intake of foods containing added sugars and solidfats, which contribute about 35% of the calories in the American diet. Also, reduce sodium intake gradually to less than 1,500 milligrams a day and lower intake of refined grains, especially those that have added sugar, solid fat and sodium.

• Meet the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Adults should get at least 2½ hours of moderate-intensity physical activity each week, such as brisk walking, or 1¼ hours of a vigorous-intensity activity, such as jogging or swimming laps, or a combination of the two types. Kids and teens should do an hour or more of moderate-intensity to vigorous physical activity daily.

It seems rather obvious that, for better health, Americans in genera lneed to eat less of the bad things and partake of more of what’s good. It really is a matter of simple common sense - but apparently far easier said than done.

The same God who created the physical body of man, and the requirements that make it function best, has done the exact same in the spiritual arena. His Word is clear that a lack of proper spiritual nutrition is as detrimental to the soul as is a lack of good physical food is to the human body.

The writer of Hebrews addressed the subject of spiritual health and maturity in chapter five. Verse 12 begins, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Hebrews 5:12-14)

When Jesus was being tempted in the wilderness by Satan, He responded by stating the superior and eternal value of spiritual food versus physical. Luke 4:3-4 states, “And the devil said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread." But Jesus answered him, saying,"It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.'"

Paul likewise pointed to the necessity of proper spiritual nutrition in the third chapter of 1 Corinthians when he chastised the church there for their poor biblical diet. “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal.” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)

An overweight society will not, in general, enjoy the benefits of a healthy existence. Eating poorly will eventually affect the quality of life as well as physical life spans. And in like manner, Christians who ignore the adequate intake of the life-sustaining food of God’s Word will find themselves spiritually ill, weak, and open to all manner of unfortunate and even dangerous trials and troubles.

The miraculous body and soul of man was invented and fashioned by an omniscient and omnipotent God. David put it like this in Psalm 139:14. “I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made." And both of these aspects respond best when each one is properly fueled by the things intended by the One who created them.

The responsibility of the Christian to pay attention to his or her physical health is seen in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. “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 reason for paying special attention to one’s spiritual diet is summed up briefly, but effectively, in the Old Testament by the prophet Jeremiah. “Your words were found, and I ate them. And Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart.” (Jeremiah 15:16)

But for any who may wonder about the direct link between being in good spiritual health, and overall physical wellness, need to consider the amazing truth as taught in Proverbs 3:7-8. “Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the LORD and depart from evil. It will be health to your flesh, And strength to your bones."

Bill Breckenridge

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Saved Teen Sailor Saved Again

Some thought the attempt was crazy from the start. Others admired the courage and determination even though it ended prematurely.

Her name is Abby Sunderland, the 16-year-old who tried to become the youngest girl to sail solo around the globe. Her brother Zac had been successful at age 17 in the same journey not long ago. His record as the youngest male to succeed at the feat was soon broken by another younger sailor.

The Thousand Oaks, California resident was raised on the water and sailing for her was as natural for her as breathing. But even her great sailing skill was not enough once her 40-foot yacht , Wild Eyes, was met by fierce 30-foot waves that crippled the boat and forced her to send for help. It took two full days, after sending out distress signals, until a French fishing vessel rescued her more than 2,000 miles from the western Australia coast. The vessel has since been abandoned and sunk in the Southern Ocean.

As far as what actually ended her dream and destroyed her boat, Sunderland wrote on her blog, “Crazy is the word that really describes everything that has happened best. The long and the short of it is, well, one long wave, and one short mast."

During the few tense days, members of the Sunderlands’ church in Simi Valley held a late-night prayer meeting for Abby, At the start of the service Pastor Joe Schimmel said, "We just know that Abby is in God’s hands and nobody can snatch her from His hands." An hour later that they got a text message saying that Abby was all right,

Before the voyage, her father Laurence told the Los Angeles Times that he believed that the Lord was in control of everything on Abby’s journey. He declared, "We are born-again Christians, and we don't make any decision just based on feeling or even on sound knowledge. We also pray about it. The conviction of prayer and the answer to prayer has led to where we are with Abigail's campaign. We have our dreams and aspirations but we need to know that the Lord is in control of them.” Her mom stated, “Sometimes I wake up during the night and I think about what could happen and think of her out there alone on the ocean,” she said. “I start to get nervous. But I believe that God controls the wind and the waves and whatever comes to her.”

The debate over whether or not it is irresponsible for a parent to allow a minor child to take on an activity so obviously dangerous has heated up again after Abby’s attempt and subsequent rescue. Some even feel her parents should be legally charged with child endangerment. Others admire them greatly. And some perhaps feel a little of both.

But what is not up for debate is the vivid and valid faith of this unique family. Sailing is their obvious love but not their life. Their passion for the water seems fully intertwined with their life in and through Jesus Christ. It is not that they do careless and death-defying things just because they are secure about their eternal destiny – which they are. (I John 5:13) But what is most impressive is their daily trust in God’s will along with His guiding and protective hand.

Many Christians know that heaven awaits them but that never seems to alter or upgrade their daily lives. They have their spiritual life insurance policy with the shed blood of Christ having paid the eternal and priceless premium. But that is pretty much where the evidence and influence of their faith ends. Their lives reflect only what they were before salvation with perhaps some minor improvements here and there. The will and work of God just never seems to become the priority it obviously is more than worthy of. (Romans 12:1-2)

But, regardless of one’s view on a 16-year-old girl circumnavigating the globe alone at sea, it is refreshing and inspiring to hear the solid consistent testimony of believers who live their faith to the fullest and take the truth of Matthew 6: 33 as their constant guide.

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Bill Breckenridge

Flood Warning

Floods come fast and deadly when rivers rise in remote areas. Twenty died in the nighttime flash flood deluge at Arkansas’ Albert Pike Recreation Area when rampaging rivers surged through the campground last week. Mingled grief and anger well up in survivors’ families. It’s a tragic news story bringing national sympathy especially since it involves happy family times cut short by death that came without warning.

Human tragedies like this recent killer flood are seldom anticipated nor the victims forewarned. Hindsight declares that better warning systems are needed, which is difficult in such remote areas when campers are focused on enjoying nature rather than monitoring newscasts.

In the massive global flood of Noah’s day described in Genesis 6, ample warning had been given. In fact, mankind had 120 years to prepare and a huge visible object lesson to picture the oncoming disaster. Genesis 6:3 says, “And the LORD said, ‘My spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh: yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.’” Only one man of a monogamous marriage, a father of three boys each married to one wife, was listening carefully to the time limit.

The first usage of the word “grace” in the Bible is in that story when the solitary father heard God’s voice, which was otherwise drowned out by the raucous cacophony of riotous immoral lifestyles. “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.” (Gen. 6:8)

With no rainfall, since the earth was watered with a mist according to Gen. 2:6, Noah built a huge barge by faith. “By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.” (Hebrews 11:7)

Christ outlined an end-time scenario of pathetic populist ignorance. “But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” (Matthew 24:37-39)

In Arkansas, they did not know a flood was coming. In Noah’s day, they did. A huge ark measuring 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high took shape over 120 years. At the end, uncommon animal behavior in boarding the ark should have also alerted the curious onlookers. Noah’s family boarding the ark and God’s miraculous closing of the entry door behind them should have jarred the indifferent into attention. But it didn’t. The subterranean reservoirs burst, the rains fell, and they all vanished in a year-long flood.

God’s present invitation to escape the hell punishment to come is ever gracious delivering us from future wrath. “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.” (Romans 5:9)

And the grace extended to Noah is still God’s gift for positive responders. “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.” (Ephesians 2:8, 9)

Famous John 3:16 focuses the gift on Christ. “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.”

Now that you’ve read this, you are forewarned. The responsibility of belief is totally yours.

Dave Virkler

Monday, June 14, 2010

Why Is Growing Up So Hard To Do?

According to an article in the New York Times, more and more young people are avoiding growing into ‘official’ adulthood. It has been no secret that many of the so-called ‘Baby Boomers” have intentionally stretched out the lifestyles normally associated with those in their late teens or early twenties. But new research shows that the generation to follow may be as bad or worse!

In times past, when someone would be engaged in age-inappropriate or immature actions, they might well hear “Just grow up”, or perhaps “Please just act your age”. But ‘acting one’s age’ today, for growing numbers, may mean doing something at age 35 that should have been left far behind a decade or maybe even two earlier.

To help facilitate the trend, the Obama administration now allows children up to age 26 to remain on their parents’ health insurance. There has been a large increase in the number of women older than 35 who have become first-time mothers. People between 20 and 34 are taking longer to finish their education and establish themselves in careers, according to a study at MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Transitions to Adulthood. Marriage and parenthood are now viewed more as lifestyle choices, according to a new report released by Princeton University and the Brookings Institution. Social scientists say young adulthood has undergone a profound shift.

Unless something is mentally and physically wrong, growth and maturity should be a natural and normal part of life. When looking back throughout history, scores of stories are revealed about great feats accomplished by relatively young people. Today, a teen keeping his or her room straight and emptying the trash on occasion is seen as a great achievement.

In America teens are allowed to drive, work, enter the military, marry, and do a host of other highly serious and responsible activities. The opportunities are there and so is the ability for most. So to resist the normal transformation to adulthood is simply a choice – one that sometimes originates from good old-fashioned selfishness and the desire to ‘party on’ as long as humanly possible.

Granted, people mature a various rates. But overall, those who are still engaged in lifestyles that resemble high school seniors at ago 30 and beyond are intentionally defying what should be the healthy norm. It appears that more and more strive to remain ‘free’ and to live a life at play as long as they can get away with it and fund it all somehow.

As pathetic as this whole scene has become, there is an area in life that doing this is far more serious and with unspeakable consequences. In the spiritual realm, those who are given new life in Jesus Christ through faith are not asked or urged to grow and mature in their relationship with their new Savior and Lord. Growth and maturing is a command and a given – period.

Scriptural proof abounds in the New Testament concerning the subject. A classic example would be seen in 1 Peter 2:2-3 which declares, “As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” Colossians 1:9-11 echoes the same concept. Paul writes there, “For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”

But it is the passage in Ephesians chapter four that really clarifies and strengthens what God did for His children and what He expects of those who have been the recipients of His great grace and divine nature.

Starting with verse 11, Paul writes to the church, "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head — Christ — from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”

Unfortunately, many younger Americans have selected to put the natural adult maturing process on hold. If this is indeed unnatural, it will likely also be overall unprofitable. And only time will reveal the overall results both in their own lives and upon the great nation that has given opportunity to live a life like nowhere else on earth.

But for Christians, no such ‘luxury’ is afforded. For believers the stakes are higher, the expectations clearer, the final results eternal, and the rewards beyond understanding. They have been given God’s very best and should strive to give their best back to Him – not if and when they are good and ready - but as soon as spiritually possible! Why mature and grow up fully in Christ as soon as possible? Paul answers that clearly and quickly in Ephesians chapter two.

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

Bill Breckenridge

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A New Baseball Household Name ?

You have probably never heard of Stephen Strasburg. Few, with the exception of some who are heavily into the world of professional baseball, have. But that all changed this week.

The 21-year old first draft pick of the Washington Nationals made his debut on June 8th. The hype had been simply off the chart for the gifted hurler. But would he come through against big league hitters? And would the pressure of the build-up just cripple or somehow disguise the ability that had been so highly advertised?

To make a long story short, Strasburg not only won his first game, but gave one of the most dominant pitching performances in recent memory – including becoming the first rookie pitcher to strike out 14 batters and walk none in his major league debut. And this all occurred on just 94 pitches. Statistics also revealed that Strasburg thew 36 pitches over 98 miles an hour, with some clocking in at 100! But his curve may have been even more devastating. It made the Pirate hitters look almost helpless at the plate. He fanned the last seven batters he faced, and he struck out all nine Pirates starters at least once in the game.

Some called it the best pitching performance they had ‘ever seen’ and some are already comparing the new rookie star with Hall of Famers after seeing his stunning ability in just this one performance!

The quick impressive start by Stephen Strasburg was, in a word, overwhelming. He was excited, pumped up, focused, and gave his very best. The staggering results certainly verified that. But as impressive as his performance was, it was still just one game! A whole career will now follow and it will be years before the young athlete’s place in baseball history is officially determined.

In the Christian context there is a comparison and lesson when considering the fast and phenomenal start of rookie pitcher Stephen Strasburg. Often, when first saved, new believers begin their new lives in Christ with great levels of passion, enthusiasm, and excitement. They hunger for God’s word, love to attend God’s house, be with God’s people, and try to share the miracle of their spiritual re-birth in Christ with those they meet. But just as with the quick and impressive start of Stephen Strasburg, there comes an entire Christian life to follow. And it is what occurs in the bulk of those years that matters most.

In one realm, the Apostle Paul could be compared as a biblical equivalent of this new baseball star. According to Galatians chapter one, it seems that Paul was prepared for his ministry debut just like Strasburg refinined his skills in the minor leagues. Many believe that Paul’s instruction came directly from the Lord himself because of a passage in Galatians chapter one. Verse 15 begins, “But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.” (Galatians 1:15-17) Then after this theological training, Paul burst onto the scene. He began to turn the religious world of his day upside down for his new Savior – a world that he was previously entrenched in and where he held a highly respected ranking.

But over the years, despite some horrific hardships, his enthusiasm never wavered nor did his passion for souls falter. Additionally, Paul never felt that he had spiritually ‘arrived’ or could ‘coast’ because of his great accomplishments during the days of the early church. Philippians 3:12-14 gives great insight into his heart’s attitude and about his consistency of faith and the service that would last a life-time. “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

It seems that Stephen Strasburg may fast become a household name, along with the fame and fortune so typical of all modern star athletes. But again, he will have to be consistent through most of his career and not just for a game or two or a year or two.

And for Christians to fulfill their destiny in Christ, they must maintain that ‘first love’ of their initial salvation and remain excited and motivated to live for Christ throughout their earthly journey. For those who do, and who demonstrate faith and service as did Paul, they too will someday be able to echo his words of victory and joy recorded in 2 Timothy 4:8.

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Finally Got Him!

The name Van der Sloot will ring a nasty bell in the ears of those who recall the heartbreaking presumed murder and disappearance of Natalle Holloway in Aruba back in May of 2005. The primary suspect was Jordan Van der Sloot who could not be pinned down for the crime despite volumes of evidence pointing his way and because the girl's body was never found.

But now his fate has seemingly changed. In Peru, his latest playground, he has actually confessed to murder. But this time the tragic evidence is painfully present in the form of the slain body of young Stephany Flores.

In his confessing, Van der Sloot stated that Flores grabbed his laptop without his permission and found out that he was involved in the disappearance of an American woman. The Peruvian paper quoted him as saying, "I did not want to do it. The girl intruded into my private life... she didn't have any right. I went to her and I hit her. She was scared, we argued and she tried to escape. I grabbed her by the neck and hit her."

NBC News reported that a lawmaker confirmed that Van der Sloot did confess to a police officer during interrogation. It is not certain how the confession will affect the still unsolved Holloway case. But NBC’s legal analyst Dan Abrams stated that it is indeed possible now as this latest turn of events certainly reveals what Van der Sloot is capable of. The suspect was represented by a state-appointed lawyer during Saturday's questioning. Meanwhile, the suspect's family is trying to find the most competent counsel money can buy to defend him once again.

This unexpected event may shock some, relieve others, and perhaps raise the question of what other crimes this apparently evil young man has been engaged in? For a while it appeared as though he had gotten off the hook from the 2005 case. But nobody really does that forever according to 1 Timothy 5:24. The writer reveals there, "Some men's sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later." Sin is not always exposed in this life or paid for through the various, and often ineffective, justice systems of man. But to an all-knowing Creator-God, every hidden act, and even every spoken word, and will be brought into the light someday. Matthew twelve shares the words of Jesus in verse 36. "But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment."

It will be interesting to see what kind of defense is mounted for Joran Van der Sloot this time around. A confession would surely suggest a conviction. But who really knows what will occur once the best legal minds available are hired?

But there is something that is certain and of far greater importance concerning the subject and is clearly laid out in the Scriptures. The Apostle John speaks about the ultimate defense from all sins – those exposed in this life and those hidden all the way to the grave. He writes how there is but one defender who can fully clean the eternal slate of every sinner whether the sins be large or small. His identity and unique qualifications are presented 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."

Joran Van der Sloot's greatest need is not just a fancy attorney for the heinous crimes he has committed to date. His most desperate need is a personal relationship with the only Advocate who can justify him fully now and for eternity. The same can also sentence him forever to a place that will make the worst prison on earth look like a Sunday School picnic!

It would be a relief and encouraging to see this troubled young man confess his brutal crimes before an earthly court of law and removed from society for good. But he needs to do more – much more! There is a much higher level that he needs to address. It is infinitely more crucial that he someday confess himself as a pathetic and poor sinner in great need of a personal Savior! The miraculous, life-altering, and lasting results of doing that through faith in Jesus Christ are also spoken of by Paul in Romans chapter ten.

"That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." (Romans 10:9-10)

Bill Breckenridge

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Chronic Cost of ‘Constant Computing’

It seems that scientists, and now even some average Americans, are beginning to sense that the constant use of today’s variety of hi-tech communication devices are starting to have a negative impact on their ability to mentally function as they once did.

Many today are so submerged in the electronic transfer of various forms of data that they have become addicted to the point that they feel bored when not engaged in some way along these lines. But being 'over wired' can be costly in many ways – sometimes even financially. It seems that Kord Campbell, because of the sheer volume of messages he receives daily, recently overlooked a very crucial e-mail. It had offered him a huge sum of money for his Internet start up. He almost missed the one message that mattered most. Fortunately for him and his wife, he caught the financial on-line offer and was able to salvage a $1.3 million deal after apologizing to his suitor.

But one of the more serious aspects of being constantly wired to one or more of today’s many devices is not about money. It is rather about what this overload seems to be doing to the healthy functioning of the human brain. Scientists say juggling e-mail, phone calls and other incoming information can change how people think and behave. They say the ability to focus is being undermined by ridiculous bursts of non-stop information. In other words, many are beginning to miss the things that are really important because they are drowning in a sea of mostly useless and time-consuming electronic data and communications.

Research is now beginning to show that people involved in heavy duty multi-tasking actually have more trouble focusing and shutting out the vast amounts of irrelevant information that come their way in one form or another. Experts agree that these people also experience more stress. And scientists are also discovering that, even after the multi-tasking ends, fractured thinking and a lack of focus can persist. In other words, too much use of computerized gadgets can impact and help slow down the live computers in the human brain. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse and one of the world’s leading brain scientists said, "Today’s technology is rewiring our brains."

From a biblical and Christian standpoint, much could be said about this issue. The obvious one would the great contrast in the amounts of time some Christians spend in communication with everybody and anybody more than with their Savior and Lord. It is quite difficult to "Pray without ceasing" as 2 Thessalonians 5:17 commands if one’s time is largely taken up by non-ceasing e-mailing, texting, cell-phoning, Twittering and Facebooking activities, just to name a few.

Scripture also points out the extreme value of spending time studying and absorbing God’s Word and will as 2 Timothy 3:16 and the entire 119th Psalm reveal. It would be quite interesting, and likely quite discouraging, to learn the real ratio of time spent by many believers in their Bibles versus time spent involved with their collection of fancy electronic toys and gadgets. The answer may well explain the overall lukewarm condition of the church in America today as well.

Then lastly, Scripture instructs those in God’s family, "Be still, and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:12) That all-important aspect of a healthy and normal Christian life cannot work very well when God’s voice is just one of many and is generally swallowed up in a massive maze of worldly meaningless noise – some of which is seriously anti-god and counterproductive spiritually speaking.

Technology is not evil. It is a tool – and a powerful one! It can be and often is used effectively for the betterment of our daily lives and culture. And for that we should be thankful.

But this same technology should also be used for advancement of the Kingdom of God both through missionary endeavor and for the personal growth of every believer in Christ. But for Christians who are addicted to technology, on a purely secular level, this may not be at all an easy transition. It may take serious soul-searching. It will no doubt require fervent prayer, personal discipline, and a major effort to rearrange their lives and schedules to spend more time communicating with God than everyone under the sun on the latest and greatest devices of the day. Then, and only then, could Romans 12:2 become the blessed result, and fulfill God’s deepest desire for each of His people.

"And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God."

Bill Breckenridge

Friday, June 4, 2010

Lessons From A “Perfect” Game

On Wednesday evening, June 2, a perfect game turned into a routine win on the flawed call of a first base umpire.

With 26 outs—only one away from baseball immortality, Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was one away from the fabled “perfect game” as he ran to first base to make the last out, but first base umpire Jim Joyce called the runner safe. His self-confessed error wrenched defeat from the hands of obvious victory as the video replay clearly showed. And baseball commissioner Bud Selig has refused to overturn the umpire’s call.

A blog by John Aloysius Farrell says it all. “But there’s no need to weep for Armando. Over time, Galarraga’s sublime effort will be mentioned and remembered more than any other perfect game… Galarraga will get a footnote in every baseball book and a display of his own in Cooperstown, no doubt, as the victim of the worst call ever.”

Farrell continued, “Out of the ultimate baseball distress, Galarraga has immortalized forgiveness and magnificent character. He did not explode in rage as his teammates understandably did nor grouse endlessly as many fans have done. Nor did he scream for new instant replay rules which many sport officials and devotees are asking.”

Galarraga is a champion of character if not of record. The cheated pitcher humbly said of Joyce, “Nobody is perfect.” After the game, Joyce said, “I just cost that kid a perfect game. I would’ve been the first person in my face, and he never said a word to me.”

Several biblical themes find focus in this absorbing story: justification, confession and forgiveness.

Video doesn’t lie, and the replay shows Galarraga beating the runner by a step. Although the umpire missed the truth, the scene replayed thousands of times justified pitcher perfection. To each other, we humans are invariably and hopelessly flawed, yet in God’s perfect redemption picture we are justified by faith in Christ. Unlike Galarraga, we lose badly in the quest for perfection and called “out” for our sin, but trusting the completed work of Christ centers us in Romans 5:1: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The old saying repeated by countless Bible teachers holds here. Justified means “just as if I’d never sinned.”

The pitcher’s forgiveness is a bright light in a dark world where the blame game has been elevated to an art form. He could focus on the wrong and hold the ump in disgust, thus creating a permanent misery, but he’s moving on, more concerned about responsibilities than rights.

The sour episode is sweetened some by Joyce’s forthright admission of error—no excuses, just a flat-out confession that he really messed up and hurt a young player’s chances for baseball immortality. He will bear the scar for life, but his immediate hope was instant confession. In our Christian lives, unconfessed sin merely grows scar tissue more evident with passing time. The cleared slate is described in 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Seldom has a sports goof ended so well for so many. The pitcher is justified and offers forgiveness, and the umpire features confession and is forgiven. Perhaps the day of baseball instant replay is at hand. Whether instituted or not, that June evening in the Detroit ballpark will engage lively athletic discussion for years to come and hopefully be remembered as an illustration of some great spiritual lessons.

Dave Virkler