Monday, January 31, 2011

Ancient Civilization Under the Persian Gulf

The world’s attention is on Egypt and the Middle East, an area of the world with amazing biblical history. Most likely missed in the days leading up to Christmas was a Fox News report from December 8, 2010 that reviews the stunning evidence that the remnants of a vast civilization may lie under the Persian Gulf.

The teaser is this quote: “In recent years, archaeologists have turned up evidence of a wave of human settlements along the shores of the Gulf dating to about 7,500 years ago. But how could such highly developed settlements pop up so quickly, with no precursor populations to be found in the archaeological record? Jeffrey Rose, an archaeologist and researcher with the University of Birmingham in the U.K., believes that evidence of those preceding populations is missing because it’s under the Gulf.”

The article explained that these visible settlements are evidence of a huge civilization now submerged beneath the waters of the Persian Gulf, possibly for as long as 100,000 years. They say that the waters rose rapidly covering once dry land about eight millennia ago. Citing 60 new sites that apparently appeared very rapidly, Rose declared, “These new colonists may have come from the heart of the Gulf, displaced by rising water levels that plunged the once fertile landscape beneath the waters of the Indian Ocean.”

Predictably, these settlements are the earliest “outside Africa,” which is the secular researcher’s committed view of the appearance of earliest humans on planet earth. It should be noted that age estimates for humans on earth are randomly wild in speculation. Also, the best evidence for the most liberal estimates of humankind’s age is within the range of 40,000 years, as found even among evangelical “old earthers” such a Hugh Ross.

Amazingly, the Fox article said, “Historical sea level data show that, prior to the flood, the Gulf basin would have been above water beginning about 75,000 years ago. And it would have been an ideal refuge from the harsh deserts surrounding it, with fresh water supplied by the Tigris, Euphrates, Karun, and Wadi Baton Rivers, as well as by underground springs.”

Citing extremely early settlement of the region, Rose adds, “That raises the possibility that humans were established on the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula beginning as far back as 100,000 years ago or more … That is far earlier than the estimates generated by several recent migration models, which place the first successful migration into Arabia between 50,000 and 70,000 years ago … The presence of human groups in the oasis fundamentally alters our understanding of human emergence and cultural evolution in the ancient Near East.”

Let me condense this into biblical relevance without getting into conflicts over either the age of earth or the age of man.

First, advanced civilization appeared in the region much earlier than thought. Second, there had been a huge flood that likely obliterated extensive human settlements. Third, biblical rivers are cited as watering the area, specifically, rivers which are found in the Bible listed in the Genesis account of the Garden of Eden.

In view of these factors, a biblical relationship is evident. The mention of the Tigris, Euprates, Karon and Wadi Baton Rivers correspond precisely with those mentioned in Gen. 2:10–14 as being in the immediate vicinity of the Garden of Eden. The Tigris is called Hiddekel in the Bible. Based on lingering tradition, the Karon and Wadi Baton correspond to the Pison and Gihon. According to a Smithsonian magazine article of several years ago, two huge dried-up riverbeds are clearly visible from satellite pictures.

One way or another, the specific area of southern Iraq and Iran are clearly indicated.

That same Smithsonian article suggested what these more recent researchers postulated: that a huge civilization dwelt under the area of the present Persian Gulf, actually calling it the likely location of the Garden of Eden based on the rivers’ references. That could be the initial spreading civilization, as the Bible teaches, beginning with Adam and Eve in Eden. The discovery of enormous flooding in the area aligns with Genesis 6 where Noah and his family survived a water catastrophe in the Ark.

While we await further excavation and interpretation of findings, we may be assured that Genesis has it right as to the human creational venue and flood references. Secular findings make enjoyable reading of the modern archaeologist’s spade, especially since we’ve read God’s ancient Scriptures.

Dave Virkler

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Family Unplugs For 6 Months?

A recent AP story revealed a story that has probably been at least a fantasy for many parents of the typical 21st century teenager. Only this one was for real!

Susan Maushart, the mother of kids aged 14, 15 and 18, found that her children had all sunken into a total world of media screens, electronic gadgets and toys. She stated, "They don't remember a time before e-mail, or instant messaging, or Google. They didn't just use media, but they literally "inhabited" media." She revealed on TV in an interview that she almost always saw only the back of her kids' heads because they were constantly buried in some form of screen or gadget.

So Mommy Maushart began an experiment that would be a drastic measure in most anyone’s play book. First she turned off their home’s electricity for 2 weeks forcing everyone to retool how they lived their everyday lives – perhaps adding some appreciation for some of life’s forgotten blessings. The perceived “mean” mom is a lifelong devotee of Thoreau's classic book "Walden," which described the author’s detailed journey into solitude, self-sufficiency, and a simplistic life that came by living in a small cabin on a pond in the mid-1800s.

Step number two was even more drastic and something she had hoped to set up with the self-imposed 2-week power outage. For the next six months, there would be no screens or modern communications media in the home. This she knew would be certainly adequate time for getting anyone unhooked from most anything. So exactly how did the new lifestyle and ridged restrictions work out?

As Maushart explains in her new book, "The Winter of Our Disconnect", she and her kids rediscovered small forgotten pleasures like board games, books, lazy Sundays, old photos, family meals, and listening to music together. This all came about when everyone slowly surfaced from years of being deeply submerged in their own individual screen-controlled worlds.

Her son Bill, a total video game and TV addict, filled his newfound spare time playing a saxophone. He again found his love of music and eventually and got serious enough to sell his computer game console and is now studying music in college!

Maushart's youngest daughter had the hardest time going off media life-support systems so mom compromised some and allowed her the use of the Internet and other electronics but only outside the home. She immediately took that option by taking her laptop and moving in with her dad - Maushart's ex-husband. This ‘escape’ lasted just six weeks of the proposed six months. Affter returning home, she did convert her screen communication time to spending hours on an old-fashioned landline phone as a substitute for texting and Facebook. The effect on her was also quite evident and positive as her school grades improved dramatically. Maushart wrote that her kids, "awoke slowly from the state of cognitus interrupts that had characterized many of their waking hours to become more focused logical thinkers."

Susan Maushart admitted that living off the electronic grid for six months is unrealistic for most people. But she does encourage families to scale down the influence of the numerous modern-day media habits if they have literally become the center of the family universe. She urged parents to ‘unplug’ at least periodically - including themselves if they are likewise guilty of some of the same excesses as she admitted to in her own book.

Few would have the courage to do something so drastic for the over-all well-being of their children and family. And the tragic truth is that very few Christian parents have the guts or foresight to take away, or prevent the use of, anything addictive and or harmful from their children or at least balance it with an adequate intake of solid spiritual and biblical truth. Perhaps families, churches, and even the nation would see a marked improvement across the board if more young minds were taking in more Scriptural truth and spending less precious time digesting meaningless cultural trivia - often coming in the form of spiritually damaging and inappropriate material.

We live in a culture where many fine Bible references can be easily attained through various forms of screen-oriented media like Kindle applications, software programs, web resources, and other like formats. And if Christian parents cannot imagine placing restraints on a generation whose lives seem to now include media and screens in their DNA, at least some compromise could be worked out. Perhaps there could be an allotted time when some of this sacred screen technology could be used for the express purpose of spending some regular time reading and studying God’s Word electronically.

An apostle from the first century, who could never dreamed of today’s communication advancements, wrote by hand and in Greek 2 Timothy 3:16-17. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” As one teacher explained it, the Bible informs us about what is right, what is wrong, how to get right, and how to stay right.

Finally, the Holy Spirit who initially authored every word from Genesis to Revelation never required that they be read, studied and applied through any particular format. But He did make it clear that God’s Word and will is the absolute priority for every believer’s life. Scripture is to be life’s primary force and what that leads to is an abundant and victorious Christian experience -irregardless of the format one may chose to digest it.

“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

Bill Breckenridge

Friday, January 21, 2011

Governor Bentley’s Spiritual Minefield

Minefields abound in relation to baptism and salvation. A recent report from Jordan described the area surrounding Jesus’ baptismal site as being full of mines. One politician learned that they exist in personal expressions of faith as well.

For decades, pilgrims have been baptized in the Jordan River at a site just south of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel. The site is well kept with a railing leading in and out of the water and a nearby store supplying robes for rent, baptismal certificates and appropriate gifts and even some genuine Jordan River water. Thousands of Christian pilgrims have been baptized there, including a few by me on our ten tours to Israel between 1982 and 1997.

Farther south is the spot many have considered to be the more accurate site of Jesus’ baptism. It is not far from the famed Allenby Bridge, a short span that formerly accommodated tense passage between the warring nations of Israel and Jordan.

When peace was struck between the two countries in 1994, a Jordanian tank crew, on backing away from their battle station, heard strange crunching noises below them. Investigations led to excavations, and a large baptismal area used centuries earlier and fed by a clear eastern tributary was discovered. Shortly after the discovery, the Jordanian Tourism Director was interviewed on our broadcast, The Word And The World, to describe all this in detail. It was this site visited by Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to the Holy Land in 2009.

All this substantiates John 1:28 and 3:26, which says John the Baptizer was doing his work “beyond the Jordan River.” In the King James Version, Mark 1:5 says it was “the river of Jordan,” which is a more accurate translation of the Greek, indicating it was a tributary. It is in this vicinity, off the main area, where countless mines still lie buried and fears of straying pilgrims keep officials alerted for their safety. As they are cleared, more tourist acreage will be declared safe.

Baptism, wherever it is received, is always a minefield for Bible believers. Immersion, as was practiced at the newly discovered site, reflects the burial and resurrection of Christ as enacted in one’s life by receiving Christ as Savior. The Romans 6:4 outlines this: “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” The topic of Christ’s death and resurrection can be controversial, and the moment one takes a public stand, he is open to criticism or persecution.

Minefields even exist when a born-again Christian elected official dares to speak the truth in church. Alabama’s new governor, Robert Bentley, went to a Baptist church on inauguration day and declared, “There may be some people here today who do not have living within them the Holy Spirit. If we don't have the same daddy, we’re not brothers and sisters. So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I’m telling you, you’re not my brother and you’re not my sister, and I want to be your brother… But if you have been adopted in God’s family like I have ... and if you’re saved and the Holy Spirit lives within you just like the Holy Spirit lives within me, then you know what that makes? It makes you and me brothers. And it makes you and me brother and sister.”

Although what he said was correct in the context of his personal faith and the church environment, a furor ensued with many accusing him of insulting non-Christians and trying to convert them. What a minefield! What Bentley said has probably been declared countless times in every Bible-believing Baptist church as well as thousands of other denominational and independent churches, but he apologized for offending anyone and said he wished he hadn’t said what he did.

What is evident is, first, according to political correctness and pluralism, no one should speak any exclusionary words even though they might be true. Second, the media and even many Christians are woefully ignorant of biblical teaching. Believers should “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), and perhaps that love did not bleed through Bentley’s remarks adequately.

Bentley learned forcefully that Christian politicians, or any public figure for that matter, find that both watered-down biblical perceptions and pluralistic sentiments make a minefield of religious expression in a secular world.

Dave Virkler

Monday, January 17, 2011

Lessons From a Tragedy In Arizona

Tucson is still a grief-stricken community after the supermarket massacre that saw gruesome injuries and several fatalities. Among those attacked were some well-know public figures, and others not. It will go down as a day of infamy, but far more importantly as a painful reminder of serious and biblical principles.

None that were involved likely gave a second’s thought that a beautiful Arizona day would turn into a bloody national atrocity. Those who lost their lives, or almost did, ran the spectrum from a U.S. Congresswoman, to a federal judge, an elderly pastor and even a precious 9-year old girl – one who was just beginning her life and fledgling interest in the political system.

Many passages of Scripture were quoted in a memorial service for the victims and their families last week. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano read from the Old Testament and Attorney General Eric Holder quoted from the New. Even the President made reference to Bible texts in his moving words of comfort and hope about the incident.

But one verse certainly characterized the event as much or more as any. It comes from the wisdom book of Proverbs 27:1 and declares, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.” It is a lesson that many learn too late in life because so few ever expect their lives to be snuffed out so suddenly and unexpectedly. This time around it was once again a vivid reminder that this life’s status, current health condition, and even age, have little to do with being ready to face, at a moment’s notice, the Creator who resides and reigns in eternity. Hebrews 9:27 could not make this truth any more clear or concise. “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.”

But there is always one major question that lingers when such a painful and unimaginable event occurs. That is simply the spiritual readiness of those who lost their lives and were instantly brought face to face with the One who created them and gave them physical life before their death.

It is interesting that, when the ultimate crisis in life comes, so many seem to revert back to some kind of Scriptural logic. They somehow instinctively know that there is something beyond this life. (Romans 1:19) And for any public biblical reference, we should be thankful since there still remains some sense of God’s presence in what has become largely a post-Christian nation.

But the type of biblical reading and reminders, after this kind of senseless event happens, should include passages like John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” 1 John 5:11-12 would be another good choice or addition. “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.”

Among those who were attacked in Tucson were a lawmaker and one who made judgments based on the principles of law. This, too, is a reminder to Christians of another key biblical passage. It is one that relates to salvation using a legal term referring to the ultimate preparation for the moment one enters eternity and faces the Creator and judge of all the earth.

“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.” (1 John 2:1-2)

A deranged killer might brutally and callously end the life of others in a moment of illogical rage and evil. But those found in Christ are always properly prepared for even a moment like that according to Jesus’ own words in John 10:28-29. “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.”

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Continuing The Signs of The Times

It has been a long, long time since Peter penned the words in his second epistle to an infant church about the return of the Jesus Christ. Christians, even back then, lived and died with an expectancy and hope that the Lord would come back in their lifetime. But He did not. This has not only been difficult for Christians down through the centuries, but has added fuel to the fire of unbelieving skeptics as the apostle spoke of and warned about in 2 Peter 3-4.

“Knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation."

Many things have been listed out and foretold in Scripture pointing to the return of Christ. Some refer to the dramatic rise in stressful events like those spoken of in Luke 21:10-11. "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.” But probably no single sign is a significant as Israel being re-gathered and becoming a nation again in 1948.

The days just before Christ’s return were also to be characterized by ‘perilous times’ morally speaking. These days would be literally ‘outrageous’ even by nearly any decent standard of conduct and ethics. Timothy stated, “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come…” (2 Timothy 3:1) He then went on to describe a world that closely parallels today’s overall and current god-less attitudes and actions around the globe. One small example of moral decline is the current legislation and controversy surrounding U.S. passports. The traditional words “mother” and “father” will be removed from U.S. applications and replaced with gender neutral terminology of "parent number one" and "parent two". The new politically correct law obviously will please the gay community, but is a keen reminder of the irreverent conditions spoken of in Romans 1:24-28 and in other similar scriptural passages.

Then too writer and prophecy expert Joel Rosenberg has pointed out the disturbing increase in brutal attacks in recent months against Christians world-wide. This has been especially true in the Middle-east by religious and political extremists where violence against the church of Christ has been stepped up significantly and is far more bloody than before. 2 Timothy 3:11-15 made it clear that any who live faithfully and outwardly for Jesus Christ would suffer some form of persecution. But today seems to be a snapshot of Jesus’ words to His disciples in John 16:1-4 where He declared, "These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble. They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.” Tragically, those involved in this recent outbreak are anything but in God’s sacred service, rather they have been fully duped into working for His arch enemy!

Jesus also spoke of and described the moral and spiritual climate that would exist just before His own return in Matthew chapter twenty-four. Verse 36 begins, "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. 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.” These are simply more words to describe the perilous times that would become obvious just prior to Christ’s coming back to remove His precious spiritual prize – the true universal church.

Although, not connected in any prophetic way, it is rather ironic and interesting considering Jesus words describing the end-time include Noah-like conditions, that there is today a life-sized replica of the Ark being constructed in a Creation Museum in northern Kentucky. The spectacular model is scheduled to open in the spring of 2014 and will be seen by millions – providing the Lord does not return before then. If He does, the symbolic safety and salvation provided by the first ark will become even more striking and precious to those who escape destruction and wrath when they instantly are safely ushered into heaven, led by their Savior at the helm.

So in many convincing ways, it would appear that Christ’s return for His church is near – perhaps very near! And those believers who care about the biblical signs, the world’s current prophetic climate, and their relationship with their Lord should have at least two basic questions.

First, why has He not come yet if all the global signs and conditions have been fulfilled along with the obvious increase of suffering and outward explosion if sin? And secondly, what are those who know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord to be doing in what may be the little precious time left before His return for them?

It is no accident that the answer to both of those crucial questions are covered in that same passage where the doubters and detractors of Christ’s life, ministry, and return are seen. First, verse 9 reveals something often and easily overlooked. Peter writes, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”

Christ has postponed His return so that more will “not perish” eternally but be given the opportunity to be saved through faith. That aspect is fairly obvious even by a casual reading of the passage. But a more careful scrutiny of the text reveals exactly who His patience is directed to. His ‘longsuffering’ is geared toward His church! He is being patient ‘toward us’ as much or more so than those who are spiritually lost. It is aimed at those of us who already know Him. His delay is, in part if not fully, so all that have experienced salvation through faith can in turn reach out to all who have not. And if the time is short, so should be our urgency to share God’s redemptive plan to any who will listen.

Then secondly, Peter covers the other aspect of the believer’s life while they await their Lord’s glorious return for them in the air. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17) He begins in question form and then provides the answer in verses 11-12. “Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God…”

Basically, in these last days before the coming of their Savior, God’s people have but two primary tasks. While looking for His return, they are to live Christ-like lives while actively proclaiming His mighty good news and grace to a lost and dying race. In the light of the times, all else in life should be placed on the back burners, if even on the stove at all!

God’s timing is flawless and it certainly appears that the time of His return for His church is imminent. Christians, who may wonder how they should conduct their affairs until He does, need to read, meditate on, and apply the words authored by Peter in this profound and enlightening passage centered on the end times!

Bill Breckenridge

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Special Post-Holiday Reflection

Our home church (also a long-time supporting church of this ministry) had a Christmas Eve service this year at 8:00 PM. In the past few years we had moved the program back several days since so many today seem unwilling to come out on that magical night. Perhaps it is just about gathering with family, or even just the general fatigue of getting to that point in what has become a hectic and demanding season in too many ways.

On the other side of the coin, having a service on that night is unique and special. Some would use the term “majestic”. It was taking a chance as we had no idea how many would venture out after our months of preparation and a major decoration effort. But we felt led to go this direction this year and were rewarded with a good attendance – one that surpassed our typical Sunday morning worship service.

Each year, in addition to the choir concert and an appropriate message, there is an attempt to add something unique to go along with the music and the message from the pastor who also directs the choir. This year it came in an unexpected way.

A few weeks before the holiday, our family had gathered to watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” – perhaps the classic of all the seasonal shows. For those familiar with the now 45-year old cartoon, there is a part near the end when a very disillusioned and frustrated Charlie Brown yells out, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” At that point, little Linus walks to center stage, calls for a spotlight and proceeds to quote Luke 2: 8-14.

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

He then turns to Charlie and says, “That’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown”.

At that moment I got the idea of perhaps having a young boy in our church do just that as part of the pastor’s message that night. And I knew exactly who it would have to be. That idea evolved and eventually it would become part of the entire night’s message as he and the pastor would sit and discuss Christ’s coming and the real reason why He came – sin!

Those who heard were entertained, moved and impressed as 10-year old Anthony nailed his part like seasoned pro! Not only did he quote Luke 2 flawlessly, but after a discussion back and forth about sin with his pastor, he quoted John 3:16 and then actually prayed out loud for any who did not know Christ as Savior to receive Him as such. Again, he is just 10. It was a classic moment and only eternity will reveal the results!

But what many did not know was that this willing little servant got very sick the night before the service with a severe virus, which meant the entire performance and show was in jeopardy. He was the only sick one in the family? This is something that, to my dying day, I will believe was an attack of God’s adversary just as he tried to destroy the Christ child on multiple occasions even at the very start of the Lord’s life on earth in human flesh. But fervent prayer, God’s intervention, and Anthony’s solid determination won out. The message went clearly went forth and perhaps “a star was born.” It was also a little reminder of the words in Isaiah 11:6, “And a little child shall lead them.” It was a great night and you can hear the interaction between the pastor and his little actor buddy here.

In 2,000 years not much has changed. God’s enemy will do anything he can to disrupt the communication of the good news of Christ’s coming and dying – communicated by a song the choir sang called, “Cradle In The Shadow of A Cross”. But with all of his brutal attempts, the good news of salvation still goes forth and any who will open their hearts to the call of God’s Holy Spirit will be saved. This is true whether those words come from a seasoned pastor, a young child of God who is bold enough to share his faith, or both together in a very special moment.

It was a wonderful night and memory. But more importantly, it was a reminder of the simplicity of the good news that Christ came to die for sinners and that the most profound message known to man can be communicated by a young child and clearly understood by anyone who recognizes their need of the child who lay in a manger while awaiting His future task upon the cross. This reality is boldly proclaimed in my favorite verse.

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-19)

Bill Breckenridge