Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Calculating The Cost Of Irene

Besides the loss of life, interrupted lives, human suffering, and priceless possessions lost, there can now be an approximate dollar amount put on Hurricane Irene.

According to an estimate by AIR Worldwide Insurance companies, the total sum paid out will reach between $3 billion and $6 billion to cover damage – the bulk of which is coming from massive flooding. For Irene, the wind was not so much the issue. It was the vast downpour that caused widespread flooding that went farther inland than usual for an East Coast storm. Even Vermont felt the storm’s wrath.

Of course these figures are a far cry from Katrina in 2005 which caused $41.1 billion in losses, or Andrew in 1992, which caused $15.5 billion to Florida and Louisiana. But that was then and this is now. And for those who have lost some, or all of their worldly possessions, comparing one storm to another is rather meaningless.

The sun now shines, the storm is gone and now headed for the record books. Only the carnage lingers and will for some time. So the question now becomes, especially for Christians, what do we do to help? First and foremost, we need to open our eyes and care – something not easy if we ourselves happened to ‘dodge the bullet’ so to speak.

I personally led 5 separate relief trips from our church in New Jersey to Mississippi after Katrina devastated the Gulf coast. The stunning image in my mind of stepping onto the property, some 2 miles inland, where the Lake Shore Baptist Church once stood, are as fresh today as they were almost 7 years ago. I’ll never forget walking onto a concrete slab and trying to conjure up the 30-foot storm surge that carried the church, and most everything else there, away with it. Multiply that by 500 or 1,000 and perhaps you have proportions of the biblical Genesis flood!

But for many of us, the damage this time is in our own back yards. Physically helping does not require an expensive 1100-mile journey and many long hours to get there. This time, we can easily help our own neighbors. This time we can volunteer through one of the best organizations in the disaster aid business – Samaritans Purse.  We can all use this opportunity to lovingly, and with sensitivity, share the Gospel of Christ and use these unfortunate circumstances to point out how fragile material things really are and the value of clinging to the saving and solid rock with is Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4). And we can all give, pray, and encourage those who have suffered loss just as Paul wrote about in Romans chapter twelve.

“Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.” (Romans 12 10-13) Verse 15 adds, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”

After the chaos of the storm comes the chance to serve. There comes time to become the literal ‘Hands and Feet of Christ'. Hopefully His church will not squander this great opportunity, but will fully display His love and then His command recorded in Galatians 6:10. “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith."

Bill Breckenridge

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Earthquake Restores Hearing

All earthquake results are not created equal according to the amazing story of Robert Valderzak of Washington, DC.

The 75-year old had a fall in June and lost his hearing. Amazingly, after Tuesday’s 5.8 magnitude Virginia earthquake shook his hospital bed, his hearing returned, much to the amazement of doctors who are planning additional tests.

His doctor noted, “Some people seem to be a little frightened by it, but he is delighted that this earthquake came along because soon after the event, he could hear everything in the room very clearly.”

For both the hearing-impaired and those who hear fine, earthquakes are surely attention-getters. Countless people can tell you exactly where they were, what they were doing and how they felt about the big shake of August 23, 2011.

I once heard that if God can’t use His Word to get people’s attention, He uses His works. In the case of an indifferent jail keeper in Philippi, God had to use as earthquake when His quotes proved inadequate.

Acts 16 records how Paul and his company preached in the city. It created such a stir that jail time resulted. Surely the jailer knew of the preaching and likely even the content. He had heard of their work, seen them whipped mercilessly, clamped their limbs into stocks and fallen asleep, evidences of crass indifference to the Gospel and to human suffering. But when God sent an earthquake, the jailer had a different attitude.

In the dark of midnight, as Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns (the original Greek word is “hymneo”), an earthquake shook the prison, disconnected the prisoners’ shackles and rattled loose the prison doors. The commotion shook the slumbering jailer into full consciousness, and the presumed escape of his charges totally unnerved him. The narrative of Acts 16:27-34 is so astonishing that I include it here:

And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself.

But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.”

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, you and your household.”

Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.

And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized.

Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.
Earthquakes can be a disguised blessing, especially when they open one’s ears to hear God’s truth and ask the ultimate question, “What must I do to be saved?” Those who fear no mortal earthquake can answer with personally known joy, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, and your whole household too, if they believe as you.”

Dave Virkler

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Earthquakes and Other Disasters: A Sign of the Times?

On Tuesday, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake with an epicenter in Virginia jeopardized Washington, DC–even opening a crack in the Washington Monument—and was felt hundreds of miles away up and down the northeastern U.S. Various reports of collapsed walls and falling objects punctuated reports. Some analysts said it was the worst quake to hit the region in 25 years. The same day, minor quakes hit California and Colorado.

Today, weather reports declare that Hurricane Irene is set to slam the east coast and slither northward with undetermined amounts of rain and wind.

All this is happening in the face of a tragic drought in Texas and adjoining states that has nearly decimated the wheat crop, pinching national and world supplies and no doubt ratcheting up food prices. Drought and famine are no strangers to Somalia and other African countries where millions are dead or teetering on the brink of starvation.

Meanwhile the financial world experiences its own earthquake of shaky U.S. dollars and unsteady European currencies underscored by America’s national borrowing, often from unfriendly nations.

The concentration of natural and man-made disasters has long been associated with end-time scenarios where men and nature seemingly revolt against standard behavior and herald an eventual Tribulation era of stunningly amplified catastrophes. We confess to not knowing the precise prophetic connection in the present conjunction, but neither do we conclude that they are not.

Toward the conclusion of history as we have known it, the Bible forecasts strange birth pangs as time moves toward the return of Christ toward the earth in the Rapture, as it is called, of I Thessalonians 4:17 and then a terrible conjunction of global geological, astronomical and financial disorders of unparalleled magnitude.

Mark 13:8 says, “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be earthquakes in various places, and there will be famines and troubles. These are the beginnings of sorrows.” (The word translated as “sorrows” means “birth pangs.”)

1 Thessalonians 5:3-4 repeats the warning: “For when they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape.”
Whether imminent or eventual, spiritual preparation is ultimately our best defense.

In the old song Day by Day, Lina Sandell wrote,

Every day the Lord Himself is near me,
With a special mercy for each hour;
All my cares He fain would bear and cheer me,
He whose name is Counsellor and Pow’r.
The protection of His child and treasure
Is a charge that on Himself He laid;
“As thy days, thy strength shall be in measure,” *
This the pledge to me He made.

Dave Virkler

* Deut. 33:25b – “As thy days, so shall thy strength be.”

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Winning Hockey Shot in Question

Honesty is not the best policy; it is the only policy, and a Minnesota family agrees after a brief brush thinking otherwise.

At a fund-raising event, 11-year old Nate Smith of Faribault, Minnesota skated out to compete in a contest to swat a hockey puck 89 feet into a 3½-inch plastic goal. Nate has a twin brother, Nick, who was the actual entrant since Nate had just had an arm cast recently removed. When Nick’s raffle ticket number was called, he was outside the arena, and twin brother Nate was hastily substituted.

Amazingly, Nate did made the shot, and he looked to be set to receive a $50,000 prizeuntil the truth won out.

The euphoria lasted a day until family consultations concluded that the winner wasn’t actually the winner and living with a lie, no matter how close to the truth, wasn’t worth the stress. Although Nate’s father, Pat Smith, had hastily signed a document affirming the absent son’s win, he later cleared the air explaining, “The next day we felt so badly, I called the organizers. We told them that Nate made the shot. We did the right thing.” (As of this writing, there has been no decision on whether Nate gets the money or not.)

Indeed, the right thing always reflects ultimate truth. Living a lie, especially a family falsehood, mars parents’ example and degrades children’s character. The formative impressions linger into adulthood. As the twig is bent so grows the limb. The Bible says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6) True freedom is not to freedom to do wrong but to do right.

Years ago an Israeli politician faced a serious decision affecting the future of his country. He said that before he decided, he was going home to talk to two people. “I want to talk to my grandfather who has been dead for several years and I want to talk to my grandson, yet unborn.” Of course, he didn’t believe in speaking directly with either, but he illustrated the importance of recognizing the wisdom of the past and his responsibility for future generations.

Every family needs to get its moral priorities straight. Thankfully, the Smith twins will grow up knowing that truth is priceless and ill-gotten gain is dangerous. Better still, I hope that all youths come to understand that Christ is, as He Himself said, “the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)

Satan is “a murderer from the beginning, 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)

Thus, truth and error are in major disagreement. When truth wins, great blessing abounds.

Dave Virkler

Monday, August 8, 2011

Texas Governor Rick Perry Prays for America

Overcoming a legal challenge by those charging him with violating the separation of church and state, Rick Perry, the Christian Governor of Texas, called for a day of prayer. On Saturday, over 30,000 believers gathered for prayer at The Response: A Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis held at Reliant Stadium in Houston. Secularists and champions of the so-called separation of church and state decried the event as they always do. But Perry sees our national problems as a spiritual disorder, not a mere economic problem.

God bless Governor Perry. At the prayer rally, he read Scripture and then humbly called on Jesus praying, “Lord, you are the source of every good thing … You are our only hope, and we stand before you today in awe of your power and in gratitude for your blessings, and humility for our sins. Father, our heart breaks for America. We see discord at home. We see fear in the marketplace. We see anger in the halls of government, and as a nation we have forgotten who made us, who protects us, who blesses us, and for that we cry out for your forgiveness.”

This was on the same weekend that Standard & Poors, the giant credit rating agency, downgraded America’s national credit standing because there is questionable government ability to solve our problems and the recent budget efforts did not go far enough. As our financial standing buckled, Perry’s thousands bowed before God for His divine help.

Though it is belittled and maligned by opponents, massive repentance and focused prayer alone is our only hope. Perry’s call for prayer follows the precedent of our founders who pleaded for divine guidance in 1774. George Washington urged his troops in Christian conduct and had prayer and Bible reading in his military tent each day for the eight years of the Revolutionary War. As president, he called for national days of prayer.

Abraham Lincoln also proclaimed these days of national prayer and repentance as have most U.S. presidents including Barak Obama, who cited Lincoln in last May’s National Day of Prayer proclamation. “Prayer has played an important role in the American story and in shaping our Nation’s leaders. President Abraham Lincoln once said, ‘I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.’” And the proclamation ends as do almost every one of approximately 100 annual presidential proclamations, with the phrase, “In the year of our Lord,” meaning Jesus Christ.

Perry did in Texas only what the President does in Washington. If citizens of both state and nation heed these calls, there is hope for the country.

When I receive phone calls soliciting financial support for politicians and political parties, I say something to this effect. “You get nothing from me until you recognize that our problems are not financial but spiritual.” Thankfully, Rick Perry already understands that.

Dave Virkler

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

'Super Blood Donors' For Disasters?

The Food and Drug Administration is asking advice from ‘blood experts’ this week about the possibility of lessening the required time intervals for people giving blood from the standard 8 weeks down to one month. Also, the Blood Products Advisory Committee is asking if just a 48-hour space between giving would be allowed for special circumstances but only with a doctor’s permission.

Dr. Louis Katz, executive vice president of medical affairs for the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center, is in favor of the idea especially when some tragedy like a 9/11 occurs. He stated, “If things got really bad, we would like the ability to draw more fully qualified donors more quickly. We’d like already-committed donors that we could look to in a bad pinch.”

The move would essentially create a potential fleet of ‘super blood’ and also regular donors available on short notice. The FDA will consider the advice of the committee before making the change, and their timeframe and answer is unknown at present. But in a rather bold statement, Dr. Katz said, “We were going to do this anyway if we had to. What are we supposed to do, let people bleed to death?”

Blood is the most crucial aspect of all human life. Even the Bible confirms that way back in the Bible’s third book. God confirms in Leviticus 17:11, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood.” He goes on later in that verse to reveal the spiritual importance - even in the physical blood of sacrificed animals back in that day. Verse 11 continues, “And I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.” This crucial passage symbolized, and looked forward to, the future ultimate sacrifice. It would come in the form of the ‘Lamb of God’, Jesus Christ, who would arrive later in history to provide forgiveness of all sin once and for all for the entire human race.

Verses abound in the New Testament concerning how the sinless and unique blood of God’s Son was instrumental in the salvation process. 1 Peter 1:18-19 says it in no uncertain terms. “Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.”

Many other key verses verify how the shed blood of Christ on the cross is the primary ingredient in the redemption of mankind, his entrance into God’s family, and eventually eternity in heaven. The below verses are just some examples of this great theological reality – all based, of course, on faith alone in the Savior’s incomprehensible sacrifice.

- Colossians 1:13 “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.”

- Colossians 1:19-20 “For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.”

- Hebrews 9:22 “And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission.”

- Romans 5:8-9 “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.”

While health officials seek to single out and use so-called “Super Blood Donors” in case of some catastrophe, the greatest universal disaster continues on in the form of unforgiven human sin. (Romans 3:23) This has consequences now, and infinitely worse ones after this life ends. And it can be fully solved through the single greatest ‘Super Blood Donor’ ever - Jesus Christ. He voluntarily offered up Himself and shed His pure and precious blood in order to save all that would trust Him as their personal Savior! And to take advantage of His redemptive offer requires no outside permission, approval or waiting period. (2 Corinthians 6:2)

"To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (Revelation 1:5-6)

Bill Breckenridge

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Oxygen - No Longer ‘Lost in Space’

Scientists have been searching for it in outer space for some 230 years. And now they feel confident that they have finally found the elusive commodity. The rare, and highly sought out element, is none other than simple oxygen.

Individual atoms called ‘atomic oxygen’ are common in space and often seen around the larger stars. But ‘molecular oxygen’, which is formed by two bonded oxygen atoms and makes up about 20 percent of the air we breathe on planet Earth, is not.

A team of researchers has discovered the first oxygen molecules in deep space using the Herschel space telescope near the star-forming regions in the Orion nebula. The element was detected in an area roughly 1,500 light-years from Earth by the European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory using infrared detectors.

"Oxygen is the third most common element in the universe and its molecular form must be abundant in space," said Bill Danchi, Herschel program scientist at the NASA Headquarters in Washington. Paul Goldsmith, a project scientist at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said, "This explains where some of the oxygen might be hiding but we didn't find large amounts of it. We still don't understand what is so special about the spots where we do find it. The universe still holds many secrets."

The scientific world has exploded in just the last few decades and in many realms. Obviously, a great number of their discoveries have enhanced and improved the quality of life for millions around the globe. But these new, and sometimes stunning, discoveries come at a price. Multiple millions are spent and countless companies, labs, and individuals devote their time, training and talent to find and these so-called ‘secrets of the universe’.

But the thing that always puzzles me is how many of those who delve so deeply into the complex intimacies of their own planet, and beyond, typically don’t think more about the existence and involvement of an all-knowing Creator. If they do, most certainly hide that aspect of their findings and beliefs in this sphere. It seem incredible, again to me, that the things discovered, along with those areas where they can’t even scratch the surface, would lead some to at least ponder the possibility that someone beyond our comprehension intentionally designed it all.

If any group of people should think through the existence of the obvious intelligent design demonstrated by the universe, it should be the ones who study its miraculous details the most. Romans 1:20 certainly confirms this concept. “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.”

But even for those with no scientific training or knowledge, the very first verse of the Bible reveals the source of all things – understood or not. Genesis 1:1 begins, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Later in that foundational chapter, there is another great reality declared. “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

The Bible continues to relate God’s incomprehensible power and His constant involvement in the planet we live on and everything in the universe that surrounds it. One good example of this is seen in Psalm 147:4-5. “He counts the number of the stars; He calls them all by name. Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite.” Then in the New Testament, this same subject is addressed. It again declares God’s as the designer and maintainer of all things – and this time through His Son Jesus Christ who is likewise full deity and Almighty God.

Colossians chapter one speaks of Christ in verse 15 as follows. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” The word ‘consist’ means to literally ‘hold together’. Christ is the supernatural ‘glue’ that bonds the universe He created together.

The answers for all questions are wrapped up in the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Paul, speaking of the God-head writes in Colossians 2:3, “In whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” And no matter how far man proceeds, scientifically speaking, there will always be far more questions and theories than answers to the amazing and miraculous creation about them.

But when it comes to having a personal relationship with the great Creator-God, and having one’s sins fully forgiven in Christ, there is no question or theory. There can be 100% certainty. (1John 5:13). The answer to salvation takes no advanced degree, superior I.Q., or vast sums for research. This greatest of all discoveries is easily found and clearly stated in God’s word. Passages on the subject abound. (Ephesians 2:8-9, Acts 16:31, Romans 6:23, 10:13, 1John 5:11-12)

But the verse that says it best, and is perhaps the second most well-known in Scripture behind that first creation verse in Genesis chapter one, is John 3:16. All the ingredients to research the source, motives, and means of redemption appear there for all to fully discover and accept.

“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.”

Bill Breckenridge