Monday, September 26, 2011

A Flight 93 Legacy

A week after the 9/11 anniversary, I visited the newly dedicated Flight 93 Memorial near Shanksville, PA.

The town gained unexpected prominence at 10:03 AM on September 11, 2001 when United Flight 93 from Newark, NJ screaming at 560 miles per hour crashed into the ground upside down at a 45-degree angle. Hitting the soft earth of a strip mine overfill, the plane basically disappeared, puzzling the first responders who could see little that resembled an airliner.

We later learned that radical Islamist terrorist had slain the pilots, taken control and were heading toward the U.S. capitol. Courageous passengers, aware through cell phone messages of the terror ahead, strove to overcome the villains, regain control of the aircraft and possibly survive. Time ran out as the terrorists chose death for all rather than capture, and the rest is history.

Aboard Flight 93 were two friends of mine, Donald and Jean Peterson, who were believers in Jesus Christ as their Savior. Also on board was fellow believer Todd Beamer, whose wife, Lisa, I had met years before when she was a teenager in Peekskill, NY. There may have been others who personally knew Christ as Savior, but I’m focusing on Don and Jean Peterson whom I knew.

Don was retired from his business, and he and his wife had dedicated themselves to supporting Christian ministries. Don was special to me. He had served with me on a Bible college Board of Governors, had engaged me to speak to neighbors gathered for Bible teaching in his home, had booked me to speak at a crisis pregnancy center event, and sent periodic gifts for our ministry. Further, he was counseling addicts at the Keswick Colony of Mercy in Whiting, NJ and had even helped some begin business anew after their recovery.

On September 11, 2001, Don and Jean were bumped to an earlier flight as they headed for a family gathering in California. But God had another plan to bring them to a heavenly family reunion via Shanksville.

When the first responders arrived at the crash site, only two objects could be clearly identified: a part of the aircraft landing gear and Don Peterson’s Bible—fuel stained, yet intact. Even more remarkable, inside the Bible was a loose sheet on which were the names of ten men in the addiction recovery program for whome he was praying.

Isaiah 40:8 promises, “The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.”

“By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks (Hebrews 11:4 – emphasis mine). The godly speak long after their deaths as Revelation 14:13 notes, “Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, ‘Write: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.’” (emphasis mine)

On Sunday morning, September 11, 2011, Bill Welty, Director of Keswick, shared Don’s story with the 40 men currently in Colony of Mercy rehab program. At the invitation, ten received Christ as Savior. Don is still speaking, and he does it again every time I tell this story in meeting, on radio and even now on the Internet.

Todd Beamer led the charge against the terrorists saying, “Let’s roll!” His faithful and courageous wife, Lisa, authored a book titled with those two words. It made The New York Times best seller list and is often read and reread. She has encouraged countless discouraged people to keep on in trying circumstances.

I’m so grateful to Don and Jean and Todd and others who “overcame him (Satan) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and…did not love their lives to the death” (Rev. 12:11).

Dave Virkler

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Two Pastors Shot in Florida

The advice is as valid today as it was centuries ago when given through the wise words of the author of Proverbs. In the twenty-seventh chapter he wrote, “Do not boast about tomorrow, For you do not know what a day may bring forth.” Again that is great wisdom for anyone, including pastors themselves, who have likely preached at some point from this very verse or at least its concept. (Proverbs 27:1)
    This was certainly the case in Lakeland, Florida this past weekend. On Sunday, September 18, at the Greater Faith Christian Center Church, the congregation had just bowed their heads in prayer. At that precise
    moment, a former church member entered into the quiet sanctuary and opened fire. He shot and wounded the pastor and associate pastor from behind before finally being wrestled to the ground in a six-minute long

    Pastor William Boss and associate pastor Carl Stewart were shot from behind. Boss was shot in the head, and Stewart, shot three times in the back. Jeremiah Fogle was charged with first-degree murder, and three counts of attempted murder, after his 56-year-old wife Theresa Fogle was found slain inside their home not long after the church attack. They were married at Greater Faith back in 2002.

    Sheriff Grady Judd stated, "He was prepared to shoot even more and we don't know exactly why he went into this mad rage." Judd also stated, "Of all the places you should be safe, you should be safe in a house of
    worship - especially on a Sunday morning."

    The practical and spiritual lessons learned from this latest of several terrible incidents in churches over the last few years are many. First and foremost, there is no really safe place physically speaking anywhere - not even within the sacred halls of God’s house on His special day. The only real peace and security that is guaranteed is the inner spiritual safety that can only originate through a true saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

    The Psalmist had it exactly right when he wrote on the subject of ultimate security being only in God. In Psalm 33:16-19 he instructed, “No king is saved by the multitude of an army; A mighty man is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a vain hope for safety; Neither shall it deliver any by its great strength. Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, On those who hope in His mercy, To deliver their soul from death, And to keep them alive in famine.”

    One of the other top lessons learned in the Lakeland, Florida incident is that sin is real and its results often ugly and highly destructive. Many times its target becomes Christian leaders. These are uniquely chosen by
    God and therefore pose the greatest threat to Satan’s work as they endeavor to thwart his evil schemes. But the same threat holds generally true to any serious believer who takes his or her faith seriously and serves the Lord faithfully.

    Again, the spiritual lessons abound when viewing the tragic episode in Florida. Another would be that Christians should be in serious prayer for their brothers and sisters in Christ there. (Romans 12:15) But the best overall advice was offered at the outset – that of expecting the unexpected and preparing accordingly in the light of 1 Peter 5:8-9. “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith.”

    The reality is that Christians and non-believers equally live in an uncertain and sin-cursed world. Paul spoke concerning why this is so in Romans 5:12. “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.” Thankfully the story does not end there. Shortly thereafter, he shares the encouragement of Romans 6:23. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

    Sometimes sin seems to gain the temporary upper hand through some terrible event. Sometimes the pure volume and consistency of evil seems almost overwhelming. When that occurs, Christians must resist the
    temptation to simply stick their heads in the sand from fear and despair. Instead, they must place their lives and trust fully in Christ’s loving and protective hands and allow their hearts to cling to His promises like the one found in Philippians 4:6-7. There we find a guarantee of His special peace and the assurance of victory - something that defies all human logic and comprehension.

    “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

    Bill Breckenridge

    Wednesday, September 14, 2011

    America’s Poverty Level Increasing

    If you were asked how many Americans fit into the government’s standard for being at or below the poverty level, what would your answer be?

    From a personal standpoint, the statistic just offered by the Census Bureau shocked me and may well do the same to you. Their current figure is nearly 1 in 6. That bleak category amounts to about 46.2 million people, or 15.1 percent, and is a 27-year high. In addition, the number of people lacking health insurance now has increased to 49.9 million – an all-time high in the nation. These sobering statistics were released on Tuesday and covered 2010. The U.S. unemployment averaged 9.6 percent up from 9.3 percent the previous year. With that said, there is some question that the term ‘poor’ is being redefined upward by some politicians in order to bolster their own political philosophy and aspirations.

    The noun ‘poverty’ in the dictionary basically means the state or condition of having little or no money, goods, or means of support; condition of being poor. It refers to deficiency of necessary or desirable ingredients, qualities, etc. Synonyms include thinness, scantiness, and insufficiency.

    Although poverty is a common concept, it is one that is rather hard to pin down to a standard definition. The reason is simple. Some who are considered poor in one place, would be seen as fairly well off in another. Having recently adopted an orphan from the war-torn Congo, we have seen this concept up close and personal. While we try and make ends meet each month, this little boy pictures us as near royalty as we may well have more in our small house than did his entire orphanage where some 50+ malnourished kids lived, often eating once a day, and sharing clothes with one another.

    Likewise, many who are just scratching out a living can’t quite grasp a professional athlete’s attitude of turning his back at a multi-million dollar contract because he feels he is worth more or it is somehow beneath him. Many in this position never think about why others can’t afford the expensive tickets to fuel his outrageous salary – one that may even exceed the fan’s lifetime total earnings in just one season!

    True poverty is a terrible thing and causes suffering and anguish that most in America still cannot really fathom. True starvation, an increasing world-wide problem, is an unimaginable way to die. It is slow and excruciatingly painful. And in life’s last horrific days, the body literally consumes itself. That is poverty! And that is something all Christians should be aware of and try to help alleviate on whatever level God may lead. The apostle related this idea in some rather pointed words in 1 John 3:17. “But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?”

    But there also exists another form of poverty. It can be true of someone starving in some famine, disease-ridden, or war-ravaged nation. Or it can also be the case in the lives of a multi-billionaire who cannot even relate to any need on any level. This, simply stated, is spiritual poverty! It is a condition that every soul is born into according to Scripture. It is due to sin and because all have fallen short of God’s holy standards. (Romans 3:23) Romans 5:12 leaves no doubt as it clearly defines its deadly and contagious nature. ”Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.”

    Anyone who knows anything about God’s nature, and what His word teaches, knows that sin must be dealt with. If it is not reversed, the future eternal consequences are beyond horrific. The concept of everlasting punishment, in a literal hell, is beyond the ability of the human mind to grasp. But the same God, whose own nature forces Him to deal harshly, justly and equally with all sin, also loved sinners enough to provide the escape from spiritual poverty and its wretched consequences. (John 3:16) His supernatural solution was to send His only Son to die in our place. This would take away our guilt and remove our deserved penalty. His willing sacrifice allowed those who will trust Him as Savior to be fully cleansed and forever justified in God’s eyes. (1 John 4:14-15, 1 Timothy 4:10)

    Through Christ’s love and mercy, we can become spiritually whole and rich. This required a willingness on His part to experience a level and form of poverty that even His own redeemed people will likely never comprehend. 2 Corinthians 8:9 substantiates this blessed, but very costly, truth. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” 

    Material and physical poverty has plagued mankind since sin entered the race and will continue until God someday ends it. But the far greater issue is unsolved spiritual poverty and the very real and eternal nightmare it represents.

    Those who have become rich in and through Christ should thank Him constantly - regardless of their life’s economic status. And they should also seriously share their faith with those still spiritually poor with a level of fervency as do those now in great physical poverty and fighting for their very survival.

    Bill Breckenridge

    Monday, September 12, 2011

    No Religion on 9/11?

    New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg disallowed any overt religious expressions in the historic 10th anniversary ceremonies at Ground Zero where the Twin Towers once stood and a memorial is open and buildings now rise. He said that not all religious beliefs could be included and no offense should be given to any. But prayer and religious references were there.

    President Barack Obama read at length from Psalm 46:

    “God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, Even though the earth be removed, And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though its waters roar and be troubled, Though the mountains shake with its swelling.

    There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God, The holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; God shall help her, just at the break of dawn. The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved; He uttered His voice, the earth melted.

    The Lord of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge.

    Come, behold the works of the Lord, Who has made desolations in the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariot in the fire.

    Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!

    The Lord of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge.”

    Former President George W. Bush quoted a condolence letter written by President Abraham Lincoln to a grieving mother when he heard of her losing five sons in the Civil War. Lincoln wrote, “I pray that our heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement….”

    On Sunday evening, President Obama book-ended his speech at the Kennedy Center memorial concert by twice quoting the latter portion of Psalm 30:5. “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” refers to a time of mourning and then a time of joy.

    At the dedication service of the Flight 93 memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania on Saturday, President Bush quoted John 15:13: “Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends,” which was spoken by Christ of His forthcoming death on the Cross. Those same words have been quoted numerous times in blogs and other 9/11-related writings.

    The newspapers on Monday, September 12, featured the moving picture. of a father kneeling with bowed head before the inscribed name of his fallen son and his arm outstretched across the sloping panel at the newly dedicated Ground Zero memorial.

    Top political edicts may forbid formal Scripture and prayer in public gatherings, but God’s Word and the hunger for spiritual meaning in tragedy cannot be excluded from human experience. Even if every Bible were removed from earth, the Eternal Word is still guarded in heaven. “Forever, O Lord, Your Word is settled in heaven.” (Psalm 119:89)

    Dave Virkler

    Wednesday, September 7, 2011

    Lee: Bad Location and Worse Timing?

    It is obviously the last thing needed in many places along the East Coast after the desolation left by Hurricane Irene. But just when most flooded roads were re-opening, basements drying and countless thousands rebuilding, Tropical Storm Lee began to dump additional heavy rains on many of the same areas.

    Along with the downpours, Lee also spawned tornadoes, knocked out power to thousands, and swept several people away. Louisiana and Mississippi felt the greatest impact over the weekend. At least four people died because of the rough winds and drenching rains. The Gulf Coast also experienced an oil spill that left Labor Day vacationers and residents having to clean tar off of their feet that had washed up on the beaches there.

    Often life does not see fair. Many times it appears that certain people have far more unpleasant experiences than do others. At times, even committed Christians may wonder why they have not been spared particular trials because of their unique and spiritual bond to the Creator God who controls all things – including the weather. It can seem that there is little or no difference between the difficulties faced by believers and their unsaved counterparts. And sometimes the lost seem to live better, and even have an outward edge, over God’s own people?

    As far as this subject is concerned Matthew mentions something that must be remembered by every Christian when tough times come their way. Mathew 5:45 reads, “For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”  We all live equally in a fallen and sin-cursed world. And although God does sometimes perform miraculous feats of divine protection for His own, it is simply folly and impractical to think that a monster storm would rush in and out of an area and only the homes of God's people would be left standing while all others are carried away. Christians suffer in this life too - but not like those who have no hope or the peace and power that originates from God’s indwelling Holy Spirit.

    Even the Psalmist Asaph wondered about this very thing and wrote his rather blunt feelings in Psalm 73. In verse 2 he speaks with great honesty about his struggle over the seeming prosperity of the wicked versus the apparent unfair trials and tribulations of the righteous.

    Beginning in verse 2 he declares, “But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; My steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the boastful, When I saw the prosperity of the wicked.  For there are no pangs in their death, But their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men, Nor are they plagued like other men." In verse 7 he adds, “Their eyes bulge with abundance; They have more than heart could wish."  Verse 12 then concludes the vivid description of his confusion stating, ”Behold, these are the ungodly, Who are always at ease; They increase in riches. Surely I have cleansed my heart in vain, And washed my hands in innocence. For all day long I have been plagued, And chastened every morning.”

    Asaph had the honesty and boldness to write down what many of us may well be thinking but are afraid to openly admit. But as he heavily pondered this most troubling personal matter, God somehow broke through the darkness and shinned His guiding light on the issue. He revealed the spiritual dimension to His servant thus allowing him to understand the matter fully from the Creators’ perspective.

    Verse 16 concludes, “When I thought how to understand this, It was too painful for me - Until I went into the sanctuary of God; Then I understood their end. Surely You set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction. Oh, how they are brought to desolation, as in a moment! They are utterly consumed with terrors.”

    Without any doubt, sometimes the ways and will of God are hard to grasp. (Isaiah 55:8)  But, at the same time, we can rest assured that His purposes are always perfect, righteous and just. He overlooks nothing and makes no mistakes – ever! (Genesis. 18:25)  His people are never left alone to struggle blindly and helplessly regardless of how high or fast life’s turbulent waters may rise. They are permanently anchored to the solid rock that is Christ. In Him alone they are secured and protected forever.

    And for those who may still ponder the source and scope of their own personal struggles, as did the Psalmist prior to his divine revelation, perhaps Psalm 46:1-3 offers the clearest understanding, peace and comfort found anywhere in the Scriptures.

    “God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, Even though the earth be removed, And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though its waters roar and be troubled, Though the mountains shake with its swelling.”

    Bill Breckenridge