Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Aroma of Death vs. Aroma of Life?

For some reason known only to God, the last several months have brought to my attention the painful reality of the frailty of human life. It began with the home-going to Heaven of my own mom just 3 days before Christmas. That was followed quickly one month later with my wife’s dear uncle, long-time friend and co-worker in this ministry, David Virkler’s sudden departure. Then just this last week or so, several people associated with our church had family members die from a variety of causes.

At this point, I was fairly sure that we had seen our share of this kind of thing for a time and could expect a little break. But not so! Just a few days ago, the chairman of the board of this ministry, Dedication Evangelism, saw his daughter die after a long struggle with cancer. Children are not supposed to see death before their own parents. It is a unique pain and somehow seems to go against nature and what should be the normal order of things.

But we still live in a in a sinful and fallen world in which there is not much that is really ‘normal’ - at least in the way God would have wanted. Events take place around the globe every day that are beyond horrible. Ask those who lost family, friends, and maybe all they owned in the tornado outbreak just days ago in the Midwest. Or try to wrap your mind around some third world countries where babies and children die in their mother’s arms daily with numbers beyond what we can fathom.

The reality is this. Death is part of life - and perhaps the most certain part. It cannot be avoided. Even the Bible confirms that and gives a general time frame for it. Scripture mentions about 70 years as the norm. In a place like America, that figure has been increased somewhat by modern medical technology. But in other places around the world, that same number may be the exception to the rule. Perhaps, if it were all averaged out, the biblical number of 70 years is very close.

But the Bible also shares something about death that is so important that it is not even mentioned in the same context with just physical death alone. The writer of Hebrews penned words that everyone should be keenly aware of and seriously act upon. Hebrews 9:27-28 reads, “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.”

God has given man more than adequate warning here and elsewhere in Scripture, about the reality of a life somewhere in eternity and the great need to be ready to enter it at a moment’s notice. To those outside of Christ, this verse should come across as absolutely frightening – especially the word ‘judgment’. But for a variety of reasons, these words do not seem enough for countless millions to properly prepare for that sobering event – the split second they stand before their Creator and answer for the life they lived and their most crucial response to His Son's sacrifice for them.

But there are also millions that are fully prepared for when they someday take their final breath. These have received Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. Great personal examples would be those mentioned at the outset here like my mom in December, Dave in January, and now Jim’s recently departed daughter in April. These did not fear death or the wrath that can be associated with it as revealed in verses like Romans 1:18. Instead, they and their loved ones can key in on great passages of hope like 1 John 2:1-2. “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. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins.”

Although being human means that the grief of physical death must run its course, God’s Word and God’s Spirit provide the supernatural resources to enable suffering loved ones to cope and overcome. He provides them the miraculous ability to realize the reality of the massive difference between those who die ‘in Christ’ and those who do not.

The Apostle Paul penned many of these great words of comfort under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Some are read regularly at almost every Christian funeral service. To Christians, they ring true because they are filled with the reality, victory, joy, and assurance in Christ alone. They provide the all-important truths most desperately needed these most difficult of all days.

 "O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?" The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)

Then too, Paul provided an incredible and unmatched description that can and should provide the greatest sense of comfort and hope imaginable to those who can somehow focus and concentrate on the greatest reality of all concerning a believer’s death.

“For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:15-18)

 Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Just Wondering?

The glorious celebration of Christ’s miraculous sacrifice and resurrection, that brought redemption to all who would trust Him as Savior, ended on Sunday. The holiday is very brief. But that does not change the fact that it is the single most eternally profound act and evidence of God's undying love for mankind ever!

And yet, already many other unrelated things in life are entering the minds of God’s people. Ongoing external pressures continue to burden their souls daily. Other responsibilities are pushing in and invading almost every area of life. I feel it happening to me and try to fight it off. But the onslaught continues – like it or not. The normal and daily difficulties of a busy modern lifestyle go on and tend to quickly replace the impact of the heightened sense of cross and risen Christ until next year. In just 72 short hours the focus on the greatest event in human history slowly slides to the back burner even though believers should never allow the cross to ever drift far from their minds for any reason.

But for some reason, today I awakened early – very early. Perhaps it was even in the vicinity of the same hour that Mary reached the empty tomb that first Easter morning, meaning even before the sun arose. And for some reason my mind began racing and began to wonder. I first wondered about what life in Heaven must be like. And before long I found myself wondering about two very special people who were spending their first Easter in the presence of their Savior and Lord there.

One of these I knew my entire life, since she was my dear mother. She was the one most responsible for me coming to Christ. She entered through the glorious gates of Heaven just days before Christmas on December 22nd. The other one I have known for exactly one half of my entire life. He was involved in my wedding many years ago as I married his niece. But he then joined my beloved mom in Heaven exactly one month after her home-going. My mom’s departure was somewhat expected. But Dave Virkler’s was not – at least to all of us. But what matters most today is that both now bask in their new painless bodies and in a tearless and unimaginably joyous heavenly home forever. There they worship God and await their saved loved ones to soon join them there.

These two close events, just 30 days apart, caused great pain mixed with greater Christian joy. There is still in this life that lasting hardship and heartache. But we are assured that it is mingled with the blessed knowledge of their new, glorious, and eternal experience in the Creator God’s incomprehensible company. They are missed because they were so special and so loved. But again, the deep pain is spiritually accompanied for Christians with the priceless “Blessed Hope”.

But as I lay there in the dark this morning, I began to ‘wonder’ about a variety of things for which I had no answers. I actually wondered if my mom and my former friend and ministry partner had met yet? I have no idea how that all works in Heaven. But I still wondered if they had already gotten a chance to share their blessings ‘together’, of residing in the unparalleled glory of God and maybe about the living quarters, or mansions, they now will forever call home. I wondered too what it was like for both to finally be totally pain free after times of great suffering as Revelation 21:3-4 reveals, “God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away." (Revelation 21:3-4)

If I was at all smart, I should have stopped ‘wondering’ right there and tried to fall back asleep. I should have simply thanked God for their new blessed and secure existence and the reality that we will see them both shortly. But instead, the wondering continued. Somehow my questions began to skirt the theologically and biblically relevant context as just described and launched into some uncharted and odd areas. Hopefully this was simply from a lack of my much needed beauty sleep at that point.

For a few strange moments, I wondered if these two new residents of Heaven may have shared huge chunks of my earthly life previously unknown to each other? Or perhaps I was only in a semi-conscious state? I wondered if they revealed some of the more infamous moments in my time with each other. I wondered if they spoke of my many mistakes, whether they had occurred at home growing up, or even in the many years of ministry in New Jersey? Of course the only thing I did not ‘wonder’ about was that, any shared data must be shared in love, laughter and forgiveness since they are both now residing in a perfect and sinless place. And there was no wondering about the fact that both will receive the rewards of the earthly labor due them.

But now that I an up, dressed, sitting at my PC and almost in my right mind, the ‘wondering’ about what my mom and the friend of some 30 years are up to has faded – thankfully! In its place has come another form of ‘wondering’. My pre-dawn questions have caused me to wonder what God is thinking about my life. I’m wondering how well I am functioning, obeying and serving Him now. And I also wonder if my present course and Christian life will result in the words that my mom and Dave no doubt heard as they entered the joy of eternity and met their Lord - “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:23)

If, for some reason, you ‘wonder’ about God’s plan and purpose for you during your very limited time on earth, simply read and study the passage below. It generally describes everything you may ‘wonder’ about, for salvation to service, in just one short passage in Ephesians chapter two. “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:4-10)

I no longer need to wonder about these two special people that had a major and lasting impact on my Christian life. They are enjoying the untold benefits and blessings of being saved through God’s grace and through their personal faith in His Son.  So all I really need to wonder about now is that last verse above and whether I am  truly involved in the ‘good works’ I was created for while awaiting that great reunion with those that have gone on ahead to their eternal reward!

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Another 'CEO' Season?

The three above letters have represented an inside church joke for countless decades. Obviously, in the secular world, it refers to the a ‘Chief Executive Officer’ in a business or corporation of some kind.

But in church circles, these same  letters stand for something that may be a bit clever, but is not at all humorous, because of the subject matter and the enormous and eternal consequences it speaks about. The short acrostic ‘CEO’ usually surfaces around the two most important times and events on the Christian calendar – Christmas and Easter. These are the sacred days when Christians remember and celebrate the coming into the world of God in the flesh, and then His later sacrificial death and resurrection – actions that brought about the possibility of forgiveness of sin and  man's justification in the eyes of a holy, pure and righteous God.

Again, one who only darkens the door of a church at these two special seasons is sometimes called a “CEO”  In this context, the meaning is a, ‘Christmas and Easter Only’ since it points to someone whose church attendance is typically limited to these two crucial holidays and almost never at any other time of year.

But if today you are a committed follower of Jesus Christ, and attend God’s house on a regular basis, remember that you naturally know a multitude of seasonal ‘CEO’s. And you should know that it is only during these two foundational holidays of the faith that some may be willing to enter the doors of a church if asked by a trusted friend, family member or co-worker. With that in mind, this is the best, and perhaps, the only time to take advantage of inviting and getting a ‘CEO’ into your house of worship.  It is during these two special seasons that God can uniquely speak to someone that would never consider attending at any other time. It is also a unique time where God may give you the greatest opportunity to partner in His greatest priority as He has spelled out in 2 Corinthians 5:20-21:

“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.”

And if you yourself are today a so-called ‘CEO’, perhaps it is the time to seriously ponder the sacrifice made by God’s Son to justify you and forgive the sin that eternally separates you from a Holy God. His great love for you was the catalyst that literally drove Him to plan and follow through with the brutal slaying of His beloved Son on a cross! This miraculous truth is clearly declared  in Romans 5:7-9.  He stated there in His word, “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.”

That is God’s special plan for your personal salvation.  His special procedure for the same is recorded in the most famous Bible verse ever. But somehow it tragically and often escapes any true consideration or understanding and thus is not ever acted upon from the heart in faith. But it remains the primary issue of what Christmas and Easter are together all about. And its divinely inspired words  not only contain the solitary solution for man's redemption in Christ, but also brings with it the  active cure for the spiritually lacking lifestyle of a seasonal 'CEO'.

“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." (John 3:16)

Bill Breckenridge
Former ‘CEO’