Monday, December 19, 2011

Healthy Preemies Despite The Odds

They come into the world with phenomenal challenges. For most it is a literal miracle that some even remain there for any length of time, much less live on to any level of normalcy. The terrible truth is that the survival rate remains low due to countless physical issues and their hyper-fragile condition even when surrounded by the greatest medical technology of the day.

They are generally addressed as “Preemies,” meaning that they did not make it to the natural full-time needed for proper physical development before their birth took place. This means that most of their crucial body parts are grossly immature, making life extremely hard and often impossible to sustain. Obviously it is heart-breaking to give birth or even see an infant that weighs in at a single pound or less. The world-record low birth weight was to a Russian infant who tipped the scales at a mere 9.2-ounces. Many normal-sized healthy babies can come into the world weighing 9.2 pounds – or more!

Estimates are that about 7,500 U.S. babies are born each year weighing less than 1 pound. Sadly only about 10 percent now survive the massive physical complications this brings. That is the bad news and the sad reality. But a recent report did shed some hope and good news for that one in ten who defy the medical odds and somehow make it. Some of these tiny preemies do survive. They heal up, catch up, grow up, and go on to experience normal lives into adulthood.

The report, that sited several specific cases, included Madeline Mann who weighed in at a meager 9.9 ounces back in at 1989. She held the world record at the time. But despite her seemingly insurmountable prognosis, she fought hard and amazingly lived. She is 22 today and a college senior. In an e-mail to reporters who questioned her current status she wrote, "I'm a pretty normal tough cookie and nice kind of girl. I have normal interests and am a normal person, which I am very lucky to have become with so many things that could have impeded that process."

The few success stories of babies who should not have survived is an encouragement and should warm the hearts of anyone who has one. But at this particular time of the year, millions are focused on another baby – a very special and famous one. Actually this child’s survival at birth was a miracle like none other as all the literal forces of Hell tried to prevent His healthy arrival. (Revelation 12:4)

But He was divinely protected and born 2,000 years ago in a manger in Bethlehem. He was the opposite of a “preemie”. He came into the world at the precise and perfect time as was predetermined by God Himself. This is verified in Galatians 4:4-5. “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.”

This most special child could not be born at any other time. His coming was precisely foreordained before the foundation of the world and He was also, even as an infant in a frail human body, the almighty Creator God of the universe. (Colossians 1:16-17) John 1:14 describes this unique infant as follows. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” Then Matthew 1: 18-23 adds crucial details that clearly set this child apart from all others who would ever be born. Scripture affirms his full deity, and His status in the triune Godhead in Colossians chapter two.

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: after His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins. So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us."

When the God-man came to earth on that special day we now call Christmas, He was anything but a “Preemie.” Actually, He has always existed from eternity past – something no human mind can begin to grasp. But anyone can comprehend through Scripture that He grew to be a sinless man and for the express purpose of becoming the sacrifice for their sins and the sins of the world. (Romans 5:15) His supernatural earthly ministry accomplished three essential feats that every Christian should always keep in mind and especially during this remarkable season that honors the arrival of Emmanuel – God with us!

First, 1 John 3:8 says this. “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” When He died on the Cross and cried out, “It is finished”, that great task that only He could perform became a reality. (John 19:39)

Secondly, those who realized and accept the ‘Babe of Bethlehem’, and His role as the Savior of all men, can cling to the truth and reality written by the Apostle Paul in Romans 5:1. “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” He adds in 1 Timothy 4:10 describing Christ, “who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.”

Then lastly, He also fully achieved the will of God that would characterize all who would receive His forgiveness and be justified though saving faith. Colossians 2:8-10 declares. “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.” Of course He did more than just these three, but they are at the top of the list for why He came while evidencing His unfathomable love for us all. (John 3:16) All of this proved that the Christ of Christmas defeated Satan, declared those who trust in Him for as fully righteous, and also make it possible for them to model His flawless life and evidence the fruit made possible by His indwelling Holy Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Christmas is the time when millions world-wide focus on the baby wrapped in swaddling cloths, surrounded by common barn animals, and lying in a crude manger under an unusually bright star. For a short season this all takes center stage even including many who remain clueless about God in human flesh and the reasons He did that. But those who do know Him as the Savior should be easily re-inspired and refocused on the blessing and reason for His coming – a reason revealed so profoundly seen in the simple title of an amazing song entitled, “Cradle In The Shadow of The Cross”.

Bill Breckenridge

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tim Tebow's Public Faith

Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow could be the world’s happiest man if his detractors’ criticism matches his Christianity.

Tebow is catching direct hits and lots of flack as sports people express their unkind sentiments regarding the public expression of his personal faith in Jesus Christ as his Savior. Never bashful in this regard, Tebow is an easy target now that he has zoomed to a 7-1 record as starting quarterback, contradicting the critics who proclaimed he was unready for the major leagues.

Christian analysts apparently have it right in their assessment. In view of his current winning streak, the rumbling criticism really is objection to his Christian faith. Why else would an athletic winner and ideal role model suffer such caustic reviews other than that he somehow makes the less spiritual nervous? His new nickname, “Mile High Messiah,” may mean that the criticism is beginning to morph into respect.

In taking criticism for his faith, Tebow could indeed be the happiest man on any gridiron. Early Christians counted themselves honored to suffer for Christ. “So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.” (Acts 5:41-42) Christ had anticipated their joy. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12)

Christian persecution goes with the spiritual territory according to the Apostle Paul. “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (2 Timothy 3:12-13)

Paul considered himself uniquely blessed to witness for Christ. “I think myself happy, king Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all the things whereof I am accused of the Jews:” (Acts 26:2)

This happiness is reaffirmed twice by Peter in his first epistle. “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. ‘And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.’ … If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.” (1 Peter 3:14; 4:14)

A precious spiritual blessing rests upon every faithful believer who is persecuted for his faith. Tim Tebow is the public example of God’s approval and personal joy.

Dave Virkler

Friday, December 9, 2011

Powerball Winners Donate $1 Million

 A trio who just won the 12th largest amount in Connecticut’s history, a whopping $254 million dollars, have decided to donate a million dollars to 5 separate charities. Each charity involves veterans and members of the military who have recently seen active duty. The receiving organizations offer help with veterans' housing, mental health care, treatment and diagnosis of traumatic brain injuries, education and employment training and other similar services. The cause is obviously noble and the gesture wonderful. Also the group has stated that they hope their example with a portion of their prize will inspire future winners to do likewise.

The trust fund was created by Greenwich wealth managers Greg Skidmore, Brandon Lacoff and Tim Davidson after they learned they had won the jackpot claimed on November 28 at Connecticut Lottery headquarters. After the announcement of their victory and generous plans, there was some speculation that the three were not the actual winners, but protecting the identity of the real ones. This was based partly due to a sense to some that the group of three did not seem quite excited enough about their record jackpot. But either way, again, the giving to the military charities by the Powerball winners was admirable to say the least and their targeted organizations deserving.

The subject of giving is one that is not foreign to the Scriptures. And perhaps one of the better know stories, and for a good reason, is revealed in Mark chapter twenty-one. It is affectionately known to most familiar with the Bible as “The Widow's Mites”. The scene opens with Jesus sitting nearby the local treasury. Verse one begins the description of what took place and eventually includes the Lord’s own pointed words and the great spiritual truth He wanted to make known to all generations from that moment on..

“Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans. So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood."

Multiple millions dream about winning a life-altering fortune. Also, far too many who cannot afford it spend far too much to achieve that extremely unlikely dream. But with that said, it would be indeed interesting to know how many who claim to be in God’s family would honestly give a similar ratio portion as did the widow to their Savior’s work if they won a mega-jackpot or came into a vast fortune through some other avenue.

It is no secret that a high percentage of churches, missionary groups, and other Christian ministry find themselves in a constant state of financial struggle. In some places on earth, that may be true largely because the average believer there is dirt poor and perhaps not even able to met the basic needs of their families. But that is simply not the case in America – at least for the preponderance of Christians who live there.

One very quick glance at what most drive, where they live, what they do, where they go, and all they own proves in a heartbeat that inadequate giving to the Lord’s work is really more about the condition of the heart. In other words, very few churches and ministries in modern-day America should be continually hurting financially and begging for the funds needed to carry on the Savior’s work on earth. Poor giving is generally not about materially poor Christians. It is a tragic symptom of poor spiritual priorities. It is simply a basic inability to understand, to really care about, or seriously believe in their hearts Jesus’ words on the subject as spelled out in Matthew 6:33 and especially as seen in Matthew 6:19-21:

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

As one has said, “Your Christian life is like a coin. You can spend it any way you want. But you can only spend it once.” Those with the mindset of the widow in Luke twenty-one fully grasp this eternal concept and they spend their lives and their assets on the only thing that truly matters and lasts forever!

William Breckenridge

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Pearl Harbor and Reconciliation

December 7, 2011 marks the 70th anniversary of the brutal Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a day which would “live in infamy” as President Franklin Roosevelt called it while urging Congress for a declaration of war. American casualties were unequalled until the savage attacks of 9/11.

Lost in the obscurity of the years are two figures whose lives would intersect miraculously in the will of God.

Captain Mitsuo Fuchida led the Pearl Harbor attack, exulting in the deadly carnage done for his emperor-god. He was the solitary Japanese officer to survive World War II despite breaking both legs in a sea accident and browsing the radiation-contaminated ashes of leveled Hiroshima. His post-war days were spent farming, but his soul was empty.

In the surprise retaliation attack on Japanese cities led by Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle in April 1942, Jacob DeShazer dropped his bombs on Osaka from plane #16, the last one off the carrier Hornet. He was captured after parachuting into Japanese-held territory in China and imprisoned by Japan for 40 months. Hatred for his torturing captors turned to love when he read in the Bible of Christ’s forgiveness through the Cross. His love abounded when he pledged that he’d return to Japan as a missionary if he survived the war.

Jake kept his vow, starting over 30 churches in Japan and preaching the Christ he once ignored. One day, after reading a tract telling DeShazer’s story given to him by other American missionaries, Mitsuo Fuchida bought a Bible, read of Christ’s death for him, and accepted Christ as his Savior. He went to meet Jake DeShazer to publicly profess Christ. As a team, they evangelized Japan seeing thousands come to Christ, and they are now together in Heaven.

The full story is on our website, but for now I emphasize the stirring truth of 2 Corinthians 5:17-19.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.”
Dave Virkler

Friday, December 2, 2011

U.S. Birth Rate Shrinks Again

According to health officials, the U.S. birth rate dropped for the third year in a row. The new report stated that the drop was true for most all ages and races alike. The findings reveal this to be the most dramatic decline since record-keeping in the field began back in the 1940s, and has impacted those in their teens and early 20s the most.

U.S. births hit an all-time high in 2007 with over 4.3 million births. But by last year it was down to just over 4 million, according to the new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – an interesting and ironic name for an organization dealing with the miracle and blessing of human birth and life. But many experts place the cause on the dragging economy as the trend began just after national financial problems began to increase around 2007. Their beliefs are that among young adults, worries have convinced them that they can't afford to start a family or add more children to an existing unit.

It is tragic on many levels that less are giving birth. There is the economic issue. When less children are born, whether by avoiding pregnancy or by abortion, that impacts the already floundering economy as there are fewer and fewer to someday enter the work force and pay into the benefit system of a growing older population who are living longer than previous generations.

Then there is the biblical and spiritual realm. We are told by the Psalmist, “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD. The fruit of the womb is a reward.” (Psalm 127:3) Proverbs 17:6 records, “Children's children are the crown of old men, and the glory of children is their father.” And even Jesus him spoke about how special children are even in Matthew 18:2-5. “Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, "Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.” (Matthew 18:2-5)

But when speaking about a decline in birth rates, Christians should be immediately reminded of another birth – the one spoken also by Jesus in John chapter three. The famed encounter involved a Pharisee named Nicodemus who was said to have been ‘a ruler of the Jews’. He was a spiritual leader. And yet he came to Jesus with questions that quickly revealed his total lack of understanding concerning true salvation. Despite this flaw, he was aware that Jesus was somehow special and spiritually unique.

Verse two records their famous exchange. “This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him." Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.”

In the Christian context, when, and how many children to have should be the prayerful decision of a married couple as they follow what they believe to God’s will on the matter. But in the context of helping to produce the new birth in lost sinners, there is no choice or limit according to the Scriptures for any committed believer. There is no adequate reason, for those who have been re-born through Christ, to allow anything to sideline them from sharing their great salvation experience through their Savior. Peter verified this when he wrote, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” (1 Peter 3:15)

Near the very end of Christ’s earthly experience and ministry His last words and His highest priority to His disciples, and to all who would follow them, are seen in Matthew 28:18-19. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen.

The physical birth rate in America may remain static, or even drop more, as people evaluate their economic and family building options. But hopefully, those who now belong to the family of the living God will not remain as ‘babes in the faith' but will instead be what God has called them to be and take every opportunity to help others find their way to Christ through the new birth.

“Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:20-21)

Bill Breckenridge