Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Monstrous Mass Murder In Norway

It was like a joining of the Oklahoma City bombing coupled with the deadly rampage at the Columbine High School several years ago. And a peaceful nation is now trying to cope with something they never expected to see after a deranged killer attacked in two separate locations one after the other.

First there came the deadly explosion that shattered multiple windows at the government headquarters in Oslo, Norway and that killed 7 and wounded at least 15 others. It has been called an act of ‘domestic terrorism’.

Then the murderer took out his vengeance on an island youth camp where at least 80, mostly kids, were gunned down in a cold and calculated fashion – something sending chills down the spine of anyone who can even vaguely imagine the horrific scene there. Some of the scared and wounded youth played dead when the gunman got near them and their actions likely saved their lives. Many others were not as fortunate, as he many times returned and shot the motionless bodies again, just to make sure they were dead.

Both attacks, taken together, added up to the deadliest event on Norwegian soil since World War II. The perpetrator was Anders Behring Breivik. He has been characterized by officials as a political conservative and right-wing extremist, as seen by previous writings on his Facebook page. He was said to be anti-Muslim as well, and listed his religion as ‘Christian’. The killer also had a Twitter account apparently belonging to Mr. Breivik with a week-old post stating, “One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100,000 who have only interests.” Tragically, his wretched beliefs were forced into the most evil of actions and many innocent people paid the ultimate price as a result.

Terrorism, in any form, is the ultimate form of brutality and especially cowardice. Few things are more wicked than the actions like those taken in Norway this past week. And the term itself has become a horrible household word across the globe, as such incidents now happen at an alarming frequency. And obviously there is no real way of knowing about, or preventing, being in the ‘line of fire’ for these barbaric moments – at least physically speaking. And this is precisely why God warns in His word of such possibilities in passages like Proverbs 27:1. “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.”

This same concept and biblical wisdom is echoed by James in the New Testament. God’s thoughts are recorded through His servant there in James 4:13-14. “Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit"; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.”

For about 80 souls at the island camp in Norway, they had no idea of how ‘little time’ would make up the boundaries of their young lives. Hopefully some who perished were spiritually ready when the disaster struck since the Bible warns of certain future judgment after this life ends in Hebrews 9:27. It also clearly reveals how to get fully spiritually ready for that all-important moment, in verses like Romans 10:13 which declares, "whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved."

As far as Mr. Breivik being a Christian, that certainly is more than up for debate, considering his heinous and outrageous actions. Those who become new creations in Christ Jesus, through personal faith, are not perfect. But they are different. They are unique, having been indwelt by the Holy Spirit and given all new hearts according to 2 Corinthians 5:17. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

Then, too, in 1 Peter 1:14-16, all true believers are given a tall order as far as how they are to conduct their affairs in this life. The Apostle writes. “as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, "Be holy, for I am holy." It goes without saying that what the killer in Norway did was about as far from this lofty standard required by God as humanly possible.

In addition, it is God alone who truly knows the inner heart of each man. It is also true that just claiming to be a Christian may mean absolutely nothing as is the case with so many who do so. The Bible speaks on this subject through the words of the Savior in Matt 7:13-14. "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

The Lord Himself also physically faced during His earthly ministry those who swore they belonged to Him. But His firm and sobering words to them indicated otherwise. "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!' (Matthew 7:21-23)

The eternal destiny of those who were so suddenly and cruelly ushered into eternity in the Norway attack is set in stone and final forever. There is no second chance – a principle clearly taught in the Scriptures. All that can be done now is praying for the survivors who have been give a second chance and the loved ones of the slain. Hopefully these will pause and realize how fragile and uncertain life really is. Hopefully they will all somehow realize that they need to do serious business with God and be fully ready to face Him whenever their time on earth ends – young or old! And hopefully they will all be made aware, through this staggering event, their immediate need for a Savior and the absolute truth recorded by the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:1-2.

“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.” 

Bill Breckenridge

Monday, July 18, 2011

Lessons from the Casey Anthony Trial – Part 2

Lawyers are important, and defendants need them desperately. Someone once said, “He who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.” Casey Anthony’s lawyer, Jose Baez, was vilified for incompetence, and most legal minds leveled a barrage of criticism against his ineptitude, but Baez left the courtroom in stunning and smiling success.

In retrospect, Baez becomes a towering legal giant who knew exactly how to keep his client off the stand and pound wedges of doubt into a sympathetic jury. Casey Anthony never said a word in her own defense, yet Baez got total acquittal in the most serious charges of murder.

The need for defense is seen even more so in the highest court of guilt or innocence before Heaven’s judge. Turning this into a biblical illustration, I thought of our great Advocate who pleads our spiritual case before the court of Heaven and its Judge, the Lord God Himself.

We are all guilty of sin. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Of obvious universal guilt, Rom. 3:19 declares, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” (emphasis mine)

As pathetic, guilty sinners, we are accused from at least four sides.

First, we are guilty before God. Second, we are accused by our own consciences. Rom. 2:15 says that the law is written in our hearts and our conscience also bears witness. Paul also wrote, “Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.” (Rom 14:22) Third, we may be accused by others whom we have offended (Matt. 5:23).

Finally, there is Satan himself. Rev 12:10 calls him “the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night.” The original Greek word for “accused” is “kategorus.” “Kata” means down, and the market in that day was the “agora,” or as we’d say, the town square. The meaning is to be publicly charged with crime in the marketplace, or literally, to be put down in plain sight.

So the guilty sinner can be facing four prosecutors. How do we get out of that?

There is solitary deliverance through forgiveness in the blood of Christ and His resurrection power. The New Testament provision is justification, which means legally proclaimed righteous. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom 5:1) The old explanatory phrase is “Just as if I’d never sinned.”

The result of this is found in Romans 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” In the Greek, “no condemnation” is also a legal word meaning, literally, “no adverse sentence.”

How precious is God’s promise, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” (Hebrews 10:17) The Psalmist had it right in Psalm 103:12. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”

All of this is wonderfully focused in 1 John 2:1: “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” The word for advocate is “paraclete” or “one called along side to help.” It is translated “comforter” four times elsewhere in the New Testament. Christians have the best lawyer in the world—the Holy Spirit of God, the Comforter. All four prosecutors are countered, and the verdict is always “Not guilty on all counts.”

The old song says it well on behalf of the guilty sinner. “Guilty, vile, and helpless we; Spotless Lamb of God was He; ‘Full atonement!’ can it be? Hallelujah! What a Savior!”

Another says, “Calvary covers it all, My past with its sin and stain; My guilt and despair, Jesus took on Him there, And Calvary covers it all.”

And still another reads, “No condemnation now I dread; Jesus, and all in Him, is mine; Alive in Him, my living Head, And clothed in righteousness divine, Bold I approach th’ eternal throne, And claim the crown, through Christ my own.”

What a wonderful verdict from God: “Not guilty on all counts. Case dismissed.”

Dave Virkler

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Lessons from the Casey Anthony Trial – Part 1

If all goes as planned, Casey Anthony goes free on Sunday after three years in jail, 33 days in court and only 11 hours of jury deliberations. In a case echoing the O.J. Simpson trial where the glove didn’t fit, the prosecutors’ charges simply didn’t prove murder beyond a reasonable doubt in the jurors’ minds.

Now, in the curious aftermath when no motive was discovered, no killer identified and no murder charges proven, millions are asking, “What really happened?” The answer is that some knowledgeable person (or persons) isn’t talking, and only God knows what really occurred.

Several notable spiritual lessons emerge from an otherwise dreadfully secular fiasco.

Family dysfunction is a heavy price for society to pay. When children are not raised in the fear and admonition of the Lord, social and moral aberrations abound. When kids are left to partying, immoral lifestyles and birthing fatherless children, it exacts a terrible price in emotional stress and financial burden. Untold millions of dollars are spent to build and maintain jails for convicted criminals and those awaiting trial and to hold lengthy trials. The emotional drain on those involved and even on curious watchers is enormous.

That there is evil in the world is beyond question and is focused by bizarre murder trials such as Anthony’s. Gross criminality feeds off satanic deception. Many of the major mystifying murders and murder trials seem strangely contorted, and truth is lost in the demonic haze. Satan is a deceiver of the world and its nations, and when rampant sinning is practiced, he has a field day of distorting the truth.

A Satanic stronghold energizes death. “…He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.” (John 8:44)

Satan is a crafty thief of God’s largesse. In John 10:10, Christ spoke of the contrast. “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”

Life and death choices confront each human, and God always yearns for life decisions. “I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)

The lustful life is always a death march as James 1:15 warns. “Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”

As the end times proceed, we should expect more of this wretched perversity. The Apostle Paul forecast that in history’s closing days men would not receive “the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason, God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie.” (2 Thessalonians 2:11) Yes, the definite article “the” is there in the original. Satan is “the lie” as opposed to Christ, who is “the truth.” (John 14:6)

Even though evidence of guilt was not established, a little girl is still dead as the result of sin. In a collision of sin and righteousness, perhaps no human court will ever determine what really happened.

Dave Virkler

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Gifts of Derek Jeter’s 3000th Hit

Derek Jeter did the seemingly impossible with unthinkable style on a day festooned with stunning aspects of giving.

Derek, who was born in Pompton Plains, NJ in the same hospital as two of my children, has been giving the athletic world and the New York Yankees a notable gift of honored living since joining the team in 1995. The son of a family who follows and supports his every “at bat,” Jeter was two away from the 3,000 hit mark on Saturday, July 9. It was a day of giving, made weather flawless by the pristine July day to cheer the sell-out crowd of 45,000 plus in the new Yankee Stadium.

Derek smacked a single to give him 2,999 hits. The next time at bat, he dueled pitcher David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays to a 3-2 count. On the next pitch, Jeter smacked a homer to become the 28th player and the first Yankee to reach 3,000 hits.

If that giving wasn’t enough, Jeter went on to drive three more balls into fair play making it a perfect outing of 5 for 5 at the plate and reaching 3,003 career hits. Some even spoke cautiously of him somehow getting to 4,000.

In another gift for fans, Christian Lopez sitting with his father in the far off stands, somehow managed to snare Jeter’s homerun ball. Lopes promptly went with Yankee officials and graciously gave Jeter this valuable sphere estimated to be worth up to $300,000 at open auction. Lopes stated that Derek had earned the honor and deserved the ball. In another gift-giving sidelight, Lopez revealed that his girlfriend had given him that day’s ticket as a gift.

The Yankees countered Lopez’ grace by giving him up to $32,000 worth of choice season seating and special team memorabilia. (The unbending IRS claims it all income and is likely to impose heavy taxes, underscoring the old adage that “No good deed goes unpunished.” How this is reasonable eludes me at the moment, but then who ever did understand the Internal Revenue Service?)

Except for the IRS marring the day, it was s special season of giving: Derek’s family gave him guidance and encouragement. (As someone noted, “His father was with him at every at bat during his career.”) A girlfriend gave a ticket. Derek gave the fans a historic baseball moment. And then Lopez gave back a home run ball in stirring generosity.

But who gave those people all things to enjoy? God gives the weather, and He created all the materials from which stadiums are made. He grants life and health and ability to athletes, and He implants a generous and grateful spirit even in a mere game attendee.

God is the greatest gift-giver according to James 1:5. “…God…gives to all liberally and without reproach….” describes the character of God as abundantly generous. His supreme focus of gift-giving centers on the Lord Jesus Christ in the famous John 3:16 explanation: “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.”
I hope all involved with Derek Jeter’s great gift to baseball will somehow find ultimate fulfillment in God’s supreme gift in Christ.

Dave Virkler

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Rare, Brave and Amazing Rescue!

A 2-year old toddler has been given a second change at life due to the heroics of a stranger passing by just as the young child fell an incredible ten long stories from her family’s apartment window.

Apparently, Zhang Fangyu slipped off the ledge after being left unattended by her grandmother who amazingly left the dwelling to run an errand. Not smart and beyond irresponsible! It was at that crucial point in time when 31-year old Wu Juping, herself a mother, saw the dangerously positioned child, kicked off her high-heeled shoes, and ran to catch the child. She told the press, "I thought to myself, I should stretch my arms to her. Because I am right here, I must get her. Then I made it. I caught her in my arms."

The impact knocked Wu unconscious and sent her crumbling to the ground along with breaking her left arm. Doctors at the Children's Hospital of Zhejiang Hospital reported no damage to little Niu Niu's brain but that the girl's abdomen was swollen - a possible sign of some injury to organs.

It is always highly encouraging and greatly inspiring when a dangerous, or even a life-threatening, act of unselfishness and bravery is undertaken by one person to help or save another – especially when total strangers are involved. That was indeed the case here with this precious 2-year old and her quick-thinking and quick responding savior. But for some,  even this incredible physical rescue might leave some wondering what they would do or why anyone would put themselves in harm’s way for someone they do not even know? The general answer for that is seen in Genesis 1:27. “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” The good that surfaces, especially in dire and dangerous moments, is because of that portion of good in every person because every person has that same portion of their Creator built into them at birth.

But this one short story of sacrifice and physical rescue contains both similarities and some contrasts, to exactly what God did for His entire created race.  Humanity is, unfortunately, fully fallen with a sin nature even at the moment of conception. Many then continue falling quite quickly and forcefully toward eternal judgement if not rescued by the unselfish and spectacular act of someone else. That “someone’, in this specific sphere, is the Son of God.

Unlike with Wu Juping, who was just in the right place at the right time, God planned man’s spiritual rescue from the foundation of the world. (Ephesians 1:4-6) He knew from eternity past that a flawed humanity was destined to proceed in their eternal fall into judgement if their unjustified sin was not somehow cushioned and fully broken and forgiven. But this incomprehensible and spiritual rescue required a supernatural sacrifice. It was an act of redemption and saving that would make even the wonderful and heart-warming story of this brave Chinese mother pale in comparison. That is simply because this child, who was so brilliantly physically saved, still needs to someday be spiritually saved when old enough to understand the message of the god news of faith in her Savior.

Perhaps the best description of God’s solution to His fallen and sin-cursed race is revealed in Philippians chapter two. The Apostle Paul attempts to reveal there the depths of God’s love. He explains the sobering length Christ went to save any that trust Him to eliminate the unimaginable consequences of permanently rejecting Him in their lives.

Verses 5-10 record some of the most profound words in Scripture as they lay out the staggering extent of Christ’s attitude and actions to rescue sinners, all helplessly plunging toward eternal wrath from birth. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth.”

Without any doubt, the rather reckless grandmother who left a helpless toddler unattended will be haunted by her actions and will likely be answering serious questions from family members and authorities alike. But again, this cannot even be compared to the moment when each person stands before God to offer Him answers for the thoughts and actions done throughout their lives. Romans 14:12 states. “So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.” Beyond that, there is the chilling concept offered up in  Hebrews chapter ten – something that should also be seriously considered for those still remaining in a fallen spiritual state and outside God’s faith family. The writer warns,  “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31)  And without a doubt, man cannot comprehend at all what this word “fearful” actually represents as it relates to an eternity of ultimate separation from God.

But for those who have not yet had the awful and eternal fall of sin eliminated, the sacred and singular solution is provided in just a few short words from the imprisoned Paul and Silas to their frightened and desperate jailer in Acts 16:29-31. “Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. “And he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved’ So they said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved."

It is when this is done with sincerity, and from the heart, that an all-new creation in Christ is born. (2 Corinthians 5:17)  It is then when a lost and fallen sinner can be caught and raised up to new life and enjoy life’s ultimate priority and promise!

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9)

Bill Breckenridge

Friday, July 1, 2011

Tim Tebow’s Eye-Catching Faith

Tim Tebow is a sports name known to any pro football enthusiast. He’s back-up quarterback for the Denver Broncos and a probable starter this year. He was the first to win the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore when he played at the University of Florida and led the Florida Gators to two national championships.

He also gained unique fame in an ad that aired during Super Bowl XLIV. A brief and subtle few seconds deftly showed how Tim’s mother didn’t abort her baby even though doctors recommended it for problematical reasons. Pro-choicers harshly criticized the ad even before it was aired but its simple inoffensive message left critics embarrassed. Its message was simply that avoiding an abortion brought a football superstar into being.

Tim has grown into a football player who loves the Lord and is unashamed of Him to the extent that he paints Scripture verses on his black eye paint to the curious amazement of football watchers around the world. Tim’s full testimony is printed in his best selling book, “Through My Eyes.” In TV interviews, he tells how he had “Phil. 4:13” written on his eye paint while he won his final college year’s regular games. That verse reads, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
For the national championship, Tim painted in “John 3:16”. His parents were pleased. His coach was worried about the change but went along, deferring to Tim’s choice. He won with John 3:16 as he had with Philippians 4:13. During that game, 94 million people Googled “John 3:16”. It set a record. Tim’s response was, “Wow, how are 94 million people not knowing John 3:16? It’s really awesome to see how God can work in a very unique way when you just trust Him and put a little Bible verse under your eyes.”

And to think that if Tim’s mother had taken the advice of the doctors, she’d have aborted her son and you wouldn’t be reading about him now.

I don’t have paint under my eyes, but I know John 3:16 is the best hope of everyone. And so, no matter who is reading here, it is John 3:16 again, “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.” Believe it and have it!

Dave Virkler