Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Wildfires in Colorado and Fires in Life

While political storms are brewing in Washington, DC, a massive wildfire is raging in Colorado Springs, CO. Fire Chief Richard Brown called it a “firestorm of epic proportions.”

Record-setting temperatures and dry, windy conditions caused the fire to double in size overnight and hampered efforts to contain it. Thirty-two thousand residents in Colorado' second largest city were forced to evacuate, and the blaze is threatening the U.S. Air Force Academy campus. Meanwhile, a lightning-sparked fire was raging in Boulder. Six others are burning in the state. Governor John Hickenlooper said it is “the worst fire season in the history of Colorado.”

Intense fires often bring out biblical terminology. The Colorado Springs wildfire has been described as “apocalyptic” and “hellish.” But what’s being experienced there doesn’t even come close to the biblical description of Hell. Christ called it a place where “the fire…shall never be quenched” (Mark 9:45). In Revelation 20:10, it’s called the “lake of fire” and is described as a place of eternal torment. In Jesus’ story of the beggar Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16, He described the rich man in Hades (another name for Hell) as “being in torments.” The rich man cried, “…send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’”

While some can evacuate and escape earthly wildfires, Hell and its eternal fury is unavoidable for anyone who has not put his or her personal trust in Jesus Christ as Savior. Having seen what a raging wildfire can do should be enough to make anyone think about what can be done to escape the eternal torment of Hell. The solution is a simple one: “[W]hoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13)

In this life, fire doesn’t serve an exclusively negative purpose. Those who are forced to quickly evacuate from threatened homes find that it takes a fire to reveal what is most important to them. Many times only what can be grabbed in a few minutes is preserved. Our focus shouldn’t be solely on earthly possessions but on the things that, as the old adage says, you can’t take with you. The Gaithers summed it up in one of their songs. “…the things that matter the most in this world, they can never be held in our hands. I believe in a hill called Mount Calvary…”

Fire is sometimes needed for growth to take place. It is a natural and necessary part of a forest’s regeneration system. Some trees’ seeds are only released in the heat of intense flames. Suppressing forest fires too long can actually be detrimental to forests and results in greater loss when a fire eventually does break out.

There are times when loss serves to strengthen one’s character, determination and faith in God. A refiner’s fire purifies precious metals, such as gold and sliver, and separates them from impure elements. Job is often viewed as the person who suffered the most devastating personal losses, but he spoke confidently of the result of such tragedy.When He (God) has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.” Job 23:10

Not everyone experiences a physical fire, but times of pain, suffering or loss are almost universally inevitable. God gave a promise to Israel that should comfort and encourage anyone who is His child: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.” Isaiah 43:1, 2)

God walks with His children through the “fires” of this life, and through salvation in His Son, we are spared from the fires of eternity.

Gayle Virkler

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Webb Simpson's Winning Attitude

This year’s U.S. Open golf tournament was a nail-biter that came down to one putt at the 18th hole. In the end, relative newcomer Webb Simpson was the unexpected winner. Simpson came from four shots behind at the beginning of the fourth round to win his first major golf tournament beating a number of well-known players including Jim Furyk, who had held the lead since the second round, Graeme McDowell, who had a chance at 18 to tie Simpson and force a playoff, and three-time U.S. Open winner Tiger Woods, who dropped back dismally in the last round.

While more seasoned players lost their concentration and confidence, 26-year old Simpson “had peace all day,” he said in the post-game TV interview. “I had to go out and do as well as I could. I probably prayed more the last three holes than I’ve ever done in my life. It helped me stay calm….”

After a surprise win like this, some might expect him to credit his own ability, but Simpson’s mention of peace and prayer indicated a different attitude. He told CBN, “I’d be stupid not to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, because it was tough out there and I was nervous, and I felt his presence all day.”

Simpson is a devout Christian who isn’t afraid to talk about his faith. It’s mentioned several times in his PGA Tour profile video. On his Twitter bio, he describes himself as a “*sinner* loved by a Savior”, and many of his “tweets” mention prayer, faith, and Scripture. He’s the host of the YFC Golf Challenge, a ministry “devoted to sharing the gospel through the means of Junior golf and equipping young men to share their love of God through actions and speech.” In an interview he did with the website Beliefnet, he said his faith has helped him play with integrity; he’s assessed himself penalty shots even when it costs him a win.

Simpson also understands that he needs to keep his focus on the ultimate goal of eternity. Paul Tesori is Simpson’s caddie and a fellow believer in salvation through Jesus Christ. Tesori told ESPN that Simpson said to him on the 17th fairway, “It doesn’t matter if we win 15 tournaments and 15 money lists. In 30 years, it’s not going to matter because we’re going to heaven anyway.” That perspective is a clear reflection of Christ’s exhortation, 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.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

In the PGA Tour profile video, Simpson speaks about the importance of his family and those around him who share his faith. He said it gives him a good perspective. “If all goes bad and I can’t play anymore, then life is still good.” Simpson’s attitude indicates a desire to follow the biblical directive to “seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” (Colossians 3:2)

Simpson is one of a number of high profile athletes who aren’t afraid to talk about their faith in Jesus Christ, among them fellow golfer and 2012 Masters winner Bubba Watson, Jets quarterback Tim Tebow, and Knicks basketball player Jeremy Lin. In a time when many sports stars’ images are tarnished by sex scandals, drug use, and gambling, it’s refreshing to see those who live out their faith both on and off the sports stage and, like the Apostle Paul, are “not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes….” (Romans 1:16)

Born-again athletes know that accolades, trophies and winners’ checks can’t bring true happiness or peace. The greatest victory in life isn’t based on winning a golf tournament or on any other achievement. It was won on the cross of Calvary and is available for all regardless of accomplishment, financial earnings or popularity.

Gayle Virkler

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Devils Lose At Winning The Cup

What at first seemed like a very quick ending and anti-climatic Stanley Cup final series was suddenly one headed for the record books through the effort of a determined and somewhat outmatched New Jersey Devils team. It has been 70 years since any NHL team has come back to win the famed trophy after being down three games to none in the final seven-game series. But the surprising Devils fought back tooth and nail to win games 4 and 5 and began to believe that they could accomplish the nearly impossible. They wore new T-shirts in the locker room saying, “Why not us?”

But that all abruptly ended in game six. It was primarily due to a somewhat stupid penalty early on in period one sending the offending Devils forward to hockey’s so-called ‘sin bin’. The major infraction left his team short-handed for five long minutes against a team they were struggling to match up with at even strength alone. The seemingly eternal power play turned the now nervous L. A. Kings into sharks smelling blood. When completed, it allowed them to score three times thereby putting the dream of a fourth New Jersey Cup on the back burner.

Lord Stanley’s prize is given to the winner of the hockey playoffs each season and is the oldest professional sports trophy in North America. It was given for the first time in 1893 to a Montreal franchise In 1915, After a series of league mergers and folds, the Cup became the de facto championship trophy of the NHL in 1926. The Cup became the NHL championship prize in 1947. Since the 1914–15 season the Cup has been won a combined 94 times by 17 active NHL teams and five defunct teams. The New York Yankees of hockey, the Montreal Canadians, have won the Cup a record 24 times.

The Cup has an amazing and storied past. It may be the most coveted, and the most unique, of all sporting awards. The major reason for this distinction is something that is done at the end of the annual playoff run. It is like no other. Once the brutally hard and marathon-like victory on the ice is achieved, every member of the winning team has his name inscribed on the precious hardware. Almost every kid who loves the game dreams of the amazing honor of seeing their name placed there. And this special practice does seem a way to gain real life hockey immortality and helps explain the unparalleled passion and sacrifice given by those who play the world’s fastest and most physically demanding, sport.

The Bible speaks of something similar to the Cup and its special practice of having individual names placed on the sport’s ‘Holy Grail’. Revelation 21:27 refers those who are “written in the Lamb's Book of Life.” These are the souls who have trusted the ‘Lamb’, Jesus Christ, as their personal Savior at some point in the earthly contest. They alone are allowed to spend eternity with Him in their Heavenly home. (John 14:2-3) These who are by faith a part God’s redeemed team, the church, possess the truest form of immortality. It is a future of blessings and rewards far beyond any human comprehension as recorded in numerous passages like Revelation 22:3-5.

“And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever.”

The New Jersey Devils were defeated this time around. But in October of 2013 they will begin a fresh season and a new quest with high hopes of having their names become part of the elusive Cup. But all whose names appear forever on the pages of Lambs special are done – forever! Their victory is sure, permanent and complete. Their adversary, the Devil, was like the hockey Devils defeated  - but for eternity when Christ cried from the cross with just three profound words revealing His total victory over sin.

“It is Finished” (John 19:30)

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Last Days Of A Flying Legend?

Her name is synonymous with flying and also missing! And since her disappearance, the famous navigator has always been the subject of interest and great curiosity. She is none other than Amelia Earhart. She was lost over the Pacific Ocean 75 years ago, sparking a major but unfruitful rescue effort that left millions to speculate over her whereabouts and survival.

Earhart’s quest to circle the globe along a 29,000-mile equatorial route was a bold endeavor for a woman back then. It was a task for anyone for that matter. But she would have been the first ever had she succeeded. Of course she did not, but instead was lost along with her navigator Fred Noonan in July of 1937.

But now The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, a non-profit foundation promoting aviation archaeology and historic aircraft preservation, have reported new details leading researchers to this conclusion. According to ‘TIGHAR’, Earhart’s plane came down and they likely survived as castaways on a remote island by catching rainwater and eating fish, shellfish, and turtles in order to survive for some uncertain period of time. Using what fuel remained to turn up the engines to recharge the batteries, they continued to radio distress signals for several days, until Earhart’s twin-engine Lockheed Electra aircraft was swept off the reef by rising tides off Nikumaroro Island.

Richard Gillespie, executive director of TIGHAR stated, “Radio distress calls believed to have been sent from the missing plane dominated the headlines and drove much of the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy search. When the search failed, all of the reported post-loss radio signals were categorically dismissed as bogus and have been largely ignored ever since. But the results of the study, he said, “suggest that the aircraft was on land and on its wheels for several days following the disappearance.” In addition, several artifacts found years ago – some of it discovered by Pacific islanders who later inhabited the island – seem to confirm TIGHAR’s conclusion.

To many, Amelia Earhart was a hero despite never having accomplished her mission and goal. Even with her great vision and bravery she was lost and never found. Her intentions were simply staggering, but she missed the incredibly high mark that she will always be revered and remembered for. And perhaps these latest findings will give those who care some small measure of closure on her amazing life and death.

There is a spiritual parallel to the life and loss of Amelia Earhart. Scores of well meaning people set high goals, make impressive plans and work hard to achieve their priorities. Sometimes there comes a degree of success and at other times there is not. But typically and tragically, a great many tend to overlook spiritual things along the journey. They fully and mistakenly exclude any thoughts of the reality of the life to come.

Like Amelia Earhart, who was physically lost and never again found, multiple millions go through life and eventually perish in a spiritually lost condition. This occurs even though they know within their hearts that God exists and is due their attention and worship. Instead they ignore what is real and what is soundly taught in Romans chapter one and throughout God’s manual for life – the Bible.

Romans 1:19-21 clearly reveals this tragic condition. “.....because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 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, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

Amelia Earhart possessed the best instructions, directions and equipment available in her field for her day. The same holds true for those who find the great blessing of the unique directions offered in God’s Word. Earhart had what she needed for success, but sadly still failed in the end. But the success rate for those who follow God’s flight plan for their soul’s destiny in Christ is 100 percent, as seen and guaranteed in Scripture.

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” (John 10:27-29)

 Bill Breckenridge