Wednesday, February 26, 2014

What Is Worth More Than Gold?

It rolls around just once every four years and is the center of attention for two weeks in much of the world. It features a dazzling display of the world’s greatest current athletes all performing in their chosen sport. And of course it is the Olympic games – the height of competition and the place where legends are crowned and the rest quickly forgotten.

This year’s winter games, the 22nd second such event, was hosted in Sochi, Russia. The formerly broken-down town near the Black Sea was transformed into a high-tech athletic venue for the world to play at, visit and be entertained by.

When the ice chips all settled, it was the home team, Russia, that came out on top with the most medals won. They likewise earned more of the highly sought after gold ones than any nation, including America, who came in second overall. The golden variety of hardware is so special as to really be in its own unique category regardless of what anyone says to the contrary.

After a heart-breaking defeat by Canada, some of the women’s U.S. hockey team members actually had tears in their eyes while on the award ceremony platform. A few may have been from joy, but others were likely due to the fact that they were receiving "only" silver. And perhaps it takes the heart of a true athlete to grasp how coming in second in the entire world can be viewed as a failure.

Olympic gold is very special. It brings instant and often long-term fame. It also has the potential, depending on the sport, of bringing a degree of wealth. Those who own it are in a very rare and exclusive club because gold is, after all, gold. No more needs be said. In sport, it signifies the very pinnacle of victory. 

But with the passing of the games, the focus on gold returns to normal. It reverts back to being a precious metal and one that is the foundation of many major monetary systems. Those who desire the most stable investment possible are told to buy as much of it as they can and to hold onto it as long as they can. It represents the highest standard of standards.

With that being the case, it is quite significant that the Bible often cites this same valuable and trusted commodity as having a limited value and fading duration when compared to something far greater. This higher caliber substance is spoken of in 1 Peter 1:18-19. The writer is speaking to reborn Christian readers when he writes, “ knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.”

Earlier in the same chapter, the temporary nature and worth of gold is also mentioned - this time relating to the post-salvation experience. Verses 6-7 read, "In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes."

Every Olympic gold medal can have an exact earthly value attached when all is said and done. This will include the actual cost of $600, the $25,000 winner’s bonus, and whatever related income that arises along the way. Perhaps some will have the "thrill of victory" by being  paid to place their photo on a Wheaties cereal box. But it can be all totaled up and reveal a precise numerical worth down to the penny.

But no such thing is true about the current and eternal values associated with redemption provided through Jesus Christ's pure and sacrificial blood. If there is such a thing as being "beyond priceless" this would be it. This is God’s "gold standard". This is the only thing that will allow former sinners to become forgiven saints. And this is what will allows Christians to someday forever walk the heavenly streets of gold described in Revelation 21. Those who will reside in this most enviable and blessed place will do so because, in their hearts through faith, they did not value most the things of this world but on what the hymn-writer penned almost a century ago.

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands;
I’d rather be led by His nail-pierced hands;
I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause;
I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause;
I’d rather have Jesus than worldwide fame;
I’d rather be true to His holy name;

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Smart, Smarter and Smartest?

She is only three years old, but she is not at all typical of her age. Instead, she is a pure and true genius. Alexis Martin is one of the youngest geniuses in the world and is already a member of Mensa - the genius society. Her current I.Q. is a staggering 160 unlike that of a normal person whose numbers come in at an average of about 100.

At only a year and a half old, the toddler would sometimes recite the bedtime story read to her from the night before. And, for the record, the books would average some 20-25 pages long and her every word would be exact! She also taught herself to speak Spanish using just an app on her parents' iPad. And her I.Q. test was so incredible that the doctors had difficulty even calculating the results. Without question, young Alexis Martin has a very rare and incredibly gifted mind.

Every individual is created special and unique by an omniscient God. Each is valued as much as all others in His sight. But each of us have gifts and abilities that are uniquely ours and therefore differ from every other person on the planet. When it comes to the issues of the mind, and one’s personal I.Q., the differences are often quite evident. Some are not blessed with the internal "smarts" as others. And there are those, like Alexis, who possess the intellectual processing power of several so-called "normal" people combined.

But there are many differing kinds and levels of intelligence. This means that sometimes what is hard for one person is almost effortless for someone else. But with that said, there is one very special capacity concerning the human mind that is unique. And it is likewise even more important than any other aspect. It is not about what anyone is actually born with or without, but comes only when someone is actually "born-again".

This special brand of I.Q. is spiritual in nature and is discussed in 1Corinthians chapter two. The passage reveals how those who have been saved, and therefore have been indwelt by God’s Holy Spirit, have all been given a very special ability that can see and understand things that those outside of Christ cannot. These are the things can only be grasped on the divine level. The Apostle Paul recorded words of explanation concerning this amazing truth and ability from above in verses 13-16 of the chapter.

“These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. For 'who has known the mind of the LORD that he may instruct Him?' But we have the mind of Christ.” This special spiritual I.Q. is like none other and worth far more than any other.

It can only be imagined what it would be like to have a monster I.Q. and have the stunning ability to understand and perhaps accomplish so many things so very easily. A blessing like it would certainly allow for great success in a great many areas of life. But the reality is that nothing can ever compare to attaining "the mind of Christ" and having the unique wisdom and perspective of the Creator God at one’s disposal. No formal number can be placed upon such a gift, and the sky is the literal limit when any believer grows in the faith, lives for the Lord and studies the Scriptures. (2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 3:18)

There is smart. There is smarter. And then there is the very smartest!

“For the LORD gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding; He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk uprightly.” (Proverbs 2:6-7)

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

50th Anniversary of The Beatles

This past week marked an anniversary in music and even in the history of American culture. It was 50 years ago on February 10th that the Beatles first appeared on the popular Ed Sullivan Show. They called it an "invasion", and it really was just that. It helped launch the group’s status to unimaginable levels of fame and success. Many of their songs are still part of the culture now and known by adults and even teens alike.

The charismatic "Fab Four", as they were dubbed, featured musicians that each had their own loyal following. But without question, the one who had the most fame was guitarist, singer and songwriter John Lennon. The controversial figure would be later assassinated in New York City just after re-emerging from time away from his craft.

Lennon is credited with the writing of many famous hits, but perhaps none was better known than his long-enduring song Imagine. The familiar melody had memorable words – words that dreamed of a world at total peace, harmony and where everyone shared everything equally. Some of the lyrics are as follows:

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky

Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too

Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

Mr. Lennon imagined things that will never happen in a fallen world while suggesting things that do exist likely do not. Perhaps it is no accident that the very first stanza urged that we all imagine that there is no heaven or hell. He also includes the absence of all religion. Then, between these two omitted concepts, he dreams of a world where all just live for the day and are at total peace with themselves and with their fellow man. It does not take much imagination to assume where Lennon’s religious hopes and beliefs lay.

The truth is that just imagining, or not imagining, something does not make it so. Heaven and hell are very real places with very real and lasting consequences – like or not. And living for the present time, and just for one’s own desires, will someday result in forever facing that terrible place that Lennon gave little credence to in his signature song. What should be seriously imagined is what facing life without a Savior and an eternity separated from God must be like.

Imagination is not a sin. I can be a huge blessing and was part of God’s miraculous design. It allows each of us to dream, hope and be creative. But God also provided mankind a living and eternal soul. This brings the unique ability to know that God really exists, to recognize sin and to trust Him to save and direct our ultimate destiny. The all-important matter requires no imagination whatsoever since Scripture has confirmed the reality and results of salvation in verses like John 3:16 and others.

 The choices are crystal clear as are the two opposing responses of the loving, but just, God they inevitably will bring.

“He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."  (John 3:36)

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A Small Blessing In A Hard Winter

In many places it has been a long, cold and very hard winter, excluding perhaps for those who are avid skiers or who may possess genes resembling that of a polar bear.  Even so, most of those who enjoy the beauty surrounding of the fluffy white stuff tend to be less than thrilled with the assorted hassles that typically accompany severe winter conditions. So when the cold months "give until it hurts" even the most hardy among us may dream of some distant beach or a Fourth of July picnic with friends adorned in shorts, tee-shirts and flip-flops!

The snowstorm that passed through a day or so has left my yard looking like the proverbial "winter wonderland". It not only covers the ground but still clings to almost every branch in site. The scene is such that even those who might voice their utter contempt for winter might secretly admire God’s creative handy-work in what they see about them. As I sit here, more snow fell last night, and apparently more is on the way a few days from now.

I have always been winter person so to speak but, with passing time, that is dwindling somewhat. I am a hockey fanatic and have what is left of my  knees to prove it. And long ago I spent every spare dollar and moment skiing at some of the nation’s great resorts. As a result. I learned to drive fairly well in snow and even enjoy the challenge that others may despise. I actually enjoy traveling around while the surroundings are "as white as snow". It looks just so clean and pristine!

But then something creeps gradually into this amazing backdrop - something that subtly begins to detract from it all. Most have probably never seen it or give it a second thought if they do. But for some reason it always grabs my attention and always brings the same exact reaction.

It revolves around that that small percentage of dingy snow piled along side almost every curb on every road. It comes as a result of vehicles splashing dirty, melting water and salt onto snow banks along the way. The contrast is rather stark with everything else in sight being so white and bright. Again, few may pay any notice to this normal post-storm occurrence, but it always reminds me a verse in the Old Testament that reads as follows:

"Come now, and let us reason together," Says the LORD, "Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow.” (Isaiah 1:18)

The white snow, at least to me, represents forgiveness and the new clean slate given by God to all who are in His faith family. The darker, dirty snow is symbolic, again to me, of sin and that fact that the darkness of sin is always present and has to be dealt with until we reach heaven’s shore.

This dingy snow at the roadside always spoils the otherwise perfect setting. There it sits right on top of the clean and white snow beneath it. It is not very pretty at all. But before long, if it does not all melt away first, another storm or even a good dusting arises and covers that discolored material. All is once more clean and pristine for a while. And that is then a reminder of a rather familiar New Testament verse this time. The writer records, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

Christians have cleansed hearts before God. That is their position forever through Christ. They are seen as clean and perfect by their Creator. But on occasion, there enters a layer of sin that tarnishes and impacts that relationship. That's the bad news. But the good news is that this can be covered and fully reversed, as are the roads from a fresh storm of white flakes. Believers can, and should, bring whatever it is that comes between them before the Lord and ask for His fresh "coating" of grace. No, their peace with God is never in jeopardy. That cleansing of the heart is forever theirs in Christ. But yes, the peace of Him can be temporarily interrupted and thus will require spiritual repairs - "if we confess our sins".

Perhaps these thoughts will remind you some day of the reality of God’s amazing covering of your sins - forever. And just maybe the scene described above will remind you of the two verses as they do me every time that I witness this contrasting winter scene. It is a very simple illustration that always helps me realize what my redemption has done. And it is also something that reminds me of what I must do to experience a fresh "coating" of God’s special post-salvation grace when my positionally cleansed heart may need some additional cleaning in order to restore the full joy and peace of  a fully right relationship with God.

Bill Breckenridge