Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Happy New Year! Really?

2013 is gone and is now relegated to a vast collection of fast-fading memories – some good and some not. But an entire new calendar year lies before us, complete with its ups and downs and a brand new set of challenges and opportunities.

For some in our world, each new year really does present great opportunities for victory, success and excitement. They have the means, and perhaps the proper skills, to allow this to be so. Most in this group reside in America or a nation similar to her. For them, 2014 is something to look forward to with great anticipation and expectation. They are typically known as the so-called “haves”.

But what about the others? How about the many who have little or nothing? What about those with an endless past that is simply bleak and a future that does not appear any better? What about those for whom a new year means just more misery and defeat? Can these others say, and really mean, “Happy New Year”?

The Bible speaks about some very distinct “others” in Hebrews chapter eleven. After recording a specific list of those who achieved great spiritual victories and earthly accomplishments, the author then turns the focus upon these so-called “others”. Verses 35-38 share a bit about their seriously difficult life experiences.

“Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented – of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.”

Although this sounds like just another Bible story from the distant past, these were real people with real problems and real feelings. They knew pain, frustration and fear as we all do. And today there are still scores of others in our word still facing similar fates in this coming new year. But these others in Hebrews had something unique and something  powerful. They had a true godly faith, one that drove them and supported them when times became unbearable – or remained unbearable. They were God’s special “others” making them as precious and worthy as those listed just before them in this enlightening Scriptural account.

2014 will bring great triumph, success and joy to many, externally speaking. For still others, likely not. But the goal for all of God’s people in the new year should be a desire and willingness to be the embodiment of Philippians 4:11-13. The Apostle Paul, who himself had often been one of the “others” wrote, “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:  I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

If you are a Christian in this brand new calendar year, do realize who owns you and all you own  in Christ! Realize that He is the loving author of your good times and is your living comforter in the hard times. He alone can secure a level of being inward contentedness that the world cannot ever grasp. His is your Savior and your Lord always – whether in times of great blessing or when sharing hard times with the “others”. And do faithfully pray for those in this latter category knowing full well that a day may well come this year when you covet their intervention! As the songwriter wisely put it, “We are only a phone call away from being brought to our knees.”

Have a blessed and contented 2014!

Bill Breckenridge

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Christmas: Still Way "Too Few"?

Too few, even those with little or no religious interest, would deny that Christmas in America is primarily today a material-based celebration. Many now turn most of their attention on gifts, decorations, parties and other similar issues connected to the year's biggest day.

Too few today can any longer well explain what the Incarnation is, what it means, and why it is so infinitely crucial to every last soul on earth.

Too few equate Christmas to be much beyond a jolly, toy-toting old man with a flowing while beard and wearing very large red suit. His odd little helpers, with large pointed ears, are also typically front and center.

Too few boast serious outdoor manger scenes in favor of those adorning Saint Nick, a slew of fictitious flying
deer and perhaps surrounded by snowmen in one form or another. There are often random angels in the mix, but with a seeming disconnect or ignorance to their vital importance to the event. Sometimes a manger scene will be included but  highly overshadowed by an array of wintery figures from a variety of random sources. And of course, manger scenes have even been prohibited in recent times so as to not offend anyone -- despite the fact that many will then celebrate the holiday where Christ's name makes up the bulk of the term.

Too few ever really pause and analyze the theologically profound words of the classic seasonal hymns even though they know almost every word by heart from their childhoods.

Too few, while watching the seasonal favorite show, “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, ever ponder the author’s intended point. That shining moment comes when little Linus takes the cartoon stage and begins his precious biblical discourse. He begins first, “I’ll tell you what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.” He then quotes, from memory, the story of the Savior’s miraculous birth as found in Luke chapter two.

And a most serious too few will ever place the babe of Bethlehem later on the cross of Calvary even when the manger scene does briefly occupy minds usually bogged down more with “visions of sugarplums” dancing in their heads.

Yes, Christmas has become far “too few” while becoming far too complicated, far too materialized and far too secularized. But despite what far too many miss, its true meaning and value can be quickly summed up in a short semi-familiar poem sometimes seen at this sacred time of the year.

Jesus Is The Reason For The Season

 In Bethlehem, God gave to us
The source of Christmas joy;
A star shown on a miracle:
The virgin birth of a boy.

He was born both God and man,
A Savior for us all,
The way to get to our heavenly home,
If we just heed His call.

So as we shop and spend and wrap
And enjoy the Christmas season,
Let’s keep in mind the sacred truth:
Jesus is the reason.

Again, far too few today grasp or appreciate this simple sacred truth. But those who do, and who know by faith “the reason for the season”, are blessed both uniquely and eternally. Their understanding allows them to experience a truly Merry Christmas because they alone know that Bethlehem was just a miraculous starting point and one that led only to Calvary. The Incarnation was always connected to the crucifixion. That was the final destination of the journey. That was the cradle in the shadow of a cross. That was the intended goal. And that brought the gift of all gifts offering forgiveness and salvation in Jesus Christ to a lost race!

We pray this Christmas that you are one of the redeemed few. But we also trust that the few might soon became the many and be counted among those who have fully trusted in “the reason for the season” -- the Savior of the soul!

"And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins."  (Matthew 1:21)

 Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

America’s Newest Fear Factor?

The “land of the free and home of the brave” has developed an attitude that is both tragic and  has serious repercussions as well. The nation whose motto has been “In God We Trust” has added a new one – “In Others We Don’t”.
The Associated Press out of Washington recently reported the following. “You can take our word for it. Americans don't trust each other anymore. We're not talking about the loss of faith in big institutions such as the government, the church or Wall Street, which fluctuates with events. For four decades, a gut-level ingredient of democracy - trust in the other fellow - has been quietly draining away. These days, only one-third of Americans say most people can be trusted. Half felt that way in 1972, when the General Social Survey first asked the question. Forty years later, a record high of nearly two-thirds say you can’t be too careful’ in dealing with people.” That is sad – and dangerous!

The above statement clearly reveals a dwindling trust factor of the nation’s citizens for each other. And yet it seems rather obvious that trust levels for the major institutions are not exactly flourishing either. The inappropriate activities by many top financial organizations have been beyond troubling. Faith in a seriously divided Congress has been waning for a long time and certainly not being helped by the ongoing health care fiasco! Also, ongoing scandals concerning some major church denominations have tarnished the church’s overall ability to be seen as trustworthy.

Forging trust in any given sphere is something that must be earned. The institutions just spoken of have never been perfect nor ever will be. But interestingly, one of them does represent the only perfect truth that exists and always has. It is the church of the living God. Its eternal leader is God in the flesh – Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:23, speaking of Him, says, “Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.” This is highly relevant to the subject because of the biblical description of Christ as the embodiment of all truth seen here. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) This makes Him alone always safe to trust.

The term “trust” is common in God’s word. It sometimes reveals what not to trust. A fine example would be Psalm 146:3. “Do not put your trust in princes, Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help.” But there remains one key positive-based area of trust that far outweighs all others because of its eternal implications. It is summed up in 1 Timothy 4:10. “Because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.” This speaks to a miraculous forgiveness and saving faith in Christ – something that occurs when He is trusted fully  for redemption and a heavenly future.

But after trusting Him for that great inner change of  heart, He must then also be trusted about life’s priorities and circumstances. Proverbs 3:5-6 explains it like this. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.” This profound passage explains both what to do and the great benefits of doing so.

The trust factor may well be more of a growing fear factor in modern-day America. If so, it is primarily because so many no longer know, and live fully, for the author and champion of ultimate truth. But if there are those who can and should still be taken at their word, it would be those who live in and through the living truth – Jesus Christ. These should always be the most reliable having fully embraced the sacred truths seen in John 8:32 and Ephesians 4:25:

 “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

“Therefore, putting away lying, Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor.’”

Ultimate trust and truth are found in God alone. They are priceless and essential ingredients. Without them, culture degenerates into chaos and confusion, and salvation becomes little more than conjecture. With them, this life goes far smoother, and the next life becomes a blessed hope and confident reality!

Bill Breckenridge