Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Linus: The Rest of the Story

The previous blog entry mentioned a very special long-running holiday program. It was all about the 50th anniversary of the beloved "A Charlie Brown Christmas". The unique program, written by Charles Schultz, has graced TVs across the nation as far back as many of us can remember. Along with one or two other programs, it would just not seem like the season was really upon us without watching the adorable cartoon characters do their thing each year. It is simply a cultural institution at the time when we celebrate the Incarnation every year.

There are many memorable moments in the program, and each will have his or her own personal favorite. The premise of the story finds Charlie Brown struggling mightily with confusion and discouragement over what the season is all about. He just cannot grasp it all, especially the jaded and materialistic attitudes he sees all about him. And in real life, there are some who experience their own difficulties at this season that is widely known as the most wonderful time of the year.

But for many longtime fans of the show, the highlight comes near the conclusion of the 25-minute animated classic. This is when Charlie can no longer contain himself and cries out in a desperate voice, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Immediately, little Linus turns to his distraught friend and says, “Sure Charlie Brown. I can tell you what Christmas is all about.”  He then slowly walks a few steps and says, “Lights, please”. And clutching his little blue security blanket, an item he was known for having with him at all times, he begins quoting from Luke chapter 2.

Starting with the 8th verse he declares, “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.”

But then upon reaching verse 10, Linus does something that is hardly noticed and yet highly significant. It happens when he quotes the angel’s words, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” The next verse, of course, speaks to the manger birth of a Savior in the city of David.

These are all familiar words to any who have watched the show for any length of time. Most can repeat them from memory. But what has slipped by so many of us is what Linus does at the exact instant the words "Fear not" exit his lips. He intentionally drops his sacred cloth companion to the stage floor and finishes the Scripture passage. He then turns, walks back to his friend’s side, and says, “That’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.”

This specific part of the scene had to be intentionally scripted. What Linus did by tossing his blanket aside was no accident. Although easily overlooked, the letting go of his precious and protective companion was no oversight. Christian writer Charles Schultz was telling viewers to stop living in a state of fear and panic. Do not worry over danger, disappointment, the unknown and temporal things. Perhaps he was thinking of Christ's words in Matthew 6:31-33 as he wrote his classic. "Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. “

And perhaps his main point of the discarded blanket was to reveal that the birth of the babe in that manger meant that sinful man could now "fear not" about someday standing before a holy God. His thrust was about  a Savior who was born in order to die for the forgiveness of sin – our sin. And perhaps it was no accident either that the Christmas hymn that closed the show – one considered as the greatest of them all – summarized best what Christmas is really all about to Charlie Brown and to every one of us.

“Hark the herald angels sing. Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild. God and sinners reconciled"

“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 2, 2015

Happy Anniversary, Charlie Brown

Almost everyone is familiar with the classic seasonal program, "A Charlie Brown Christmas". The beloved animated show has been a favorite seemingly forever and never seems to get old despite its age. This year marks the 50th anniversary since Charles Schultz’s adorable characters entered the homes of millions across the land. I’m trying to think if a holiday ever went by that I did not see at least some portion of the program since its inception?

But those who know it well recall the theme as being quite basic – and yet very profound. Sad little Charlie Brown is struggling at Christmas time. He is frustrated and depressed that Christmas is seemingly but one big commercial venture and cannot quite grasp what it is all about. This plot makes for an entertaining show, but it also reveals how so many really do feel over the holidays. I did a quick search online and typed in the phrase "depression at Christmas". These were just a few the top article titles that appeared. And some of these were from significant sources like CNN,  Psychology Today, WebMD and Huffington Post.

Christmas Depression - Does Christmas Get You Down?
Why People Get Depressed at Christmas
Coping with Depression During the Holidays
Hurting Over the Holidays...Christmas Depression or Joy?
6 causes of Christmas stress and depression
A depressive's guide to Christmas
Holiday Depression: Statistics & How to Deal

Fictitious Charlie Brown felt like millions of real people today who may be down around Christmas. And who can forget when his level of frustration came to a head on the small stage where he was trying to direct a rather distracted and oblivious cast of child actors and musicians?  It is then that he loses control and yells out his painful and famous question. "Does anyone really know what Christmas is all about?"
And in response, little Linus positions himself alone on the stage, calls for a spotlight, and calmly quotes from Luke 2:8-14:

"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not; for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill towards men."

Linus then ends his memorized quotation of Scripture by telling his friend, and much of the world now for some 50 years, “That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown

has come a long way in just one half century. Much of it is good, and some of it is not. On the negative side of the ledger is a huge and growing lack of Biblical knowledge and spiritual grounding. Some call modern America a post-Christian nation, and with good reason! And if culture back in the time when "A Charlie Brown Christmas" entered the scene needed to hear the news about the Savior’s birth, then how much more is that message needed today?

Yes, this short passage of Scripture, which the sponsors wanted removed because it was too religious, shares the true meaning of Christmas. It is about a Savior and the message of redemption for a lost and hurting world. And that why my favorite seasonal song is titled "Just a Cradle in the Shadow of a Cross". Christ came and lived in order to die! As Mark 10:45 puts it, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

Happy anniversary, Charlie Brown. Thank you, and thank you Linus, for showing the masses the significance and priority of the incarnation. And thank you Jesus for coming to into a sin-cursed world so long ago in order to be  Immanuel – God with us!

"Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us.”
(Matthew 1:23)

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

'In Everything Give Thanks' ?

The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians  5:16-18, “Rejoice always,  pray without ceasing,  in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God  in Christ Jesus for you. “

This passage, and others like it, make known that giving proper thanks to God is His desire for all of those He has created. Obviously, we should give thanks for all of the many wonderful blessings that are ours in Christ.

But along with constant prayer, we are also told to give thanks even in the midst of those things that may be downright terrible and fearful to deal with. This aspect of praising God is revealed in Philippians 4:6-7. Again it is Paul who records, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;  and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”  Here, the context of thanking God even in hard times is made quite clear. But we are assured that doing so, along with fervent and specific prayer,  will protect our hearts and minds in the storms of life.

The Old Testament too reveals God’s deep desire to receive the praise that is due Him. Psalm 107 is a classic passage along these lines and is often read at Thanksgiving time.  It begins, "Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever."  Then some fours times over, the writer repeats the phrase, "Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, And for His wonderful works to the children of men!"

And Psalm 107:22 expands on the subject. ‘"Let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving,   And declare His works with rejoicing." This same thought is echoed in Hebrews 13:15.  “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.” These verses reveal that the proper giving of thanks to God is a literal act sacrifice – something not always associated with this activity.

At this Thanksgiving season, let us not allow food, football, friends, and even family to interfere with what is Biblically good and right! So let us pause and intentionally focus in on what really matters and on the countless blessings that are ours as Christians. And lets us begin by starting with the two at the top of the lengthy list. We have been given ‘Peace with God’ in salvation and the promised ‘Peace of God’ by having our hearts and minds fully guarded even in the midst of a sometimes dark and difficult world.

“And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”  (Colossians 3:17)

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

What Do We Fear Most?

It was Franklin D. Roosevelt, in his first inaugural address who said, in the midst of a terrible economic depression, "So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself". Was he right, and is fear the greatest thing we can worry about?

Fear and worry are common aspects of the human condition. Everyone has things, logical or not, that plague them in one way or another - whether they be rich or poor, or old or young. And because of this reality, Chapman University has initiated the first comprehensive nationwide study on what strikes fear most in Americans. The survey included 1,500 participants from across the nation and from all walks of life.

The study revealed the top five things Americans fear the most as, walking alone at night, becoming the victim of identity theft, safety on the internet, being the victim of a mass or random shooting, and public speaking. Then too, the University study included another category to consider. This one had to do with the top five most feared natural disasters that Americans fear. They are, again in order, tornadoes or hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, pandemic or major epidemics and power outages.

Factors looked at included: age, gender, race, work status, education, income, region of the country, urban vs. rural, political preference, religion, TV viewing, and gun ownership. Through their analysis, two key factors emerged as causing fear the most. These were having a lower level of education and also a higher frequency of television viewing. Interesting!

And of course there are numerous other areas that cause worry and panic. Also listed in the various studies were things like; crime, romantic rejection, ridicule, talking to strangers overpopulation, pollution, Obamacare, gun control, immigration, ridicule, stalking, kidnapping, hate crimes, terrorism, civil unrest, police brutality, aging, loneliness, dying, illness, running out of money and unemployment. And we should not leave out the 8% who actually stated a serious worry about facing Zombies - a stat that seems to play into fears coming from too much of, and the wrong kind, of TV watching. This is just a small sampling of what people can have as logical or illogical fears and worries. If you want to really see how pervasive this issue is, take a brief look online at Phobialist .com.

The dictionary defines fear as being afraid of something or someone or to expect or worry about something bad or unpleasant. The word worry comes from an old English term that means to kill, choke or strangle by squeezing the throat. It means to stop something from growing or developing. That is precisely what fearing and worrying about the wrong things, and for too long, will do in the life of an individual.

Granted, life has more frightful things than can even be listed out. That is what living in a fallen and sin-cursed world can do. And that is exactly why God addressed this debilitating issue in His word. First, we must acknowledge that fear can be valuable at times. For example, there should be an element of healthy fear of being spiritually lost and entering into eternal judgment because of lacking a saving relationship with God's Son. And this is something to be feared above all else. Hebrews 10:31 puts it very directly. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God'  That is true if one is not fully and properly prepared to meet Him at life's end. Jesus said in Matthew 10:28. "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."

But what about dealing with post-salvation fear? What about the kind of worry that does not deal with where one will spend eternity, but the kind of everyday stress that God's people are exposed to in a broken and evil world? Scripture has more than addressed that issue and question as well. There are many passages that are pertinent, but just one of the most familiar ones can suffice for starters.

A classic passage on this subject is found in Phil 4:6-7. Paul the apostle writes, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." It is significant that the passage states to not be anxious, or worry about, "anything". Can this be taken literally and seriously? That's a pretty tall order in a badly fallen world! Is that really possible when considering the vast array of serious trials and temptations that can and do arise in this life?

But the giving of that direct command is not isolated from the solution. The order is immediately followed by how to victoriously carry it out. "But in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God."  When really analyzing this part of the equation, we see that the key element to dealing with fear and worry is prayer. And this is not some limited, shallow or occasional prayer. The prayer spoken of here is comprehensive.  The prayer spoken of first here refers to earnest prayer that is addressed to God and in the spirit of true worship. The supplication spoken of secondly refers to addressing or petitioning Him for a very specific need. Both are part of the solution.

And we cannot forget that giving thanks, even while facing struggles, is included as part of the equation of dealing with anxiety - all anxiety. God is worthy of praise before, during and after those things in our lives that cause untold stress. Those who have peace WITH God (that is salvation) are promised here to also have available to them the peace OF God. That is part of their personal redemption benefit package. That particular peace encompasses things like tranquility, harmony, safety, security quietness and rest. It is so special and unique that it is said to surpass all human logic and understanding. And this comes through the supernatural 'guarding' of the heart as seen in verse 7. It is a term that refers to how someone in the military guards, protects and prevents invasion by a hostile enemy. That is God's offer to His redeemed people. And in a life and world that brings such frequent storms, how could anything imaginable be more valuable?

Much more could be said about the reality of fear and worry as opposed to the God-given ability to successfully conquer it in the life of a child of God. But what He has said in His word here should bring total joy and confidence in the words of Jesus in John 16:33.

"These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."  

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A Trick or A Treat?

It arrives at the end of every October and the evidence of that reality is seen almost everywhere in the culture. And although it was once celebrated mostly by younger kids, it  has shifted into a full blown event for adults and countless millions who seek a  reason to dress up, party and just escape  from the daily routines and stresses of everyday life. And of course we refer to Halloween.

This seemingly minor holiday is currently anything but. In fact, it has grown exponentially.  Retail stores begin hiring additional help for the entire holiday season beginning with this bizarre event. In the last few decades temporary specialty stores have risen up just to meet its demands. And what are those demands? That can be seen by the fact that Halloween is today the second-largest commercial holiday, with only Christmas being ahead of it. Americans will spend an average of $24.00 per person on costumes this year alone. 

In addition to costumes, home decorations are a major part of the season and consumers are expected to spend around a billion and a half dollars this time around. Just about seventy-five feet from where I sit stands a black, air-filled black cat, about the size of a large SUV, complete with lighted eyes that glow after dark. This is typical of countless displays nationwide that are today common throughout the month of October.

The growth of the Halloween industry in these days is being fueled greatly by young adults. In recent years, the young adult age group is most likely to celebrate Halloween. Over half of those in the 18-24 year-old age group are likely to throw or attend a party while about 40% of people plan to wear a costume of some sort.

Without question, Halloween has become a very big deal in America. But is that good, bad or simply neutral when all things are considered? And does the phrase 'Treat or Treat' have a more significant meaning than most might know? Also, considering the darker subject matter that makes up a great portion of the entire scene, what should be the reaction of those who are spiritually-minded Christians to it all?

These are good questions that I could wade into here. But that has been already done by this ministry through David Virkler who was its founder and director. So to gain a biblical perspective on this hugely popular, but very strange celebration, please click here on our ministry website to read his commentary. And please contact us for a printed copy if you desire one for your self, church or group. 

“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things.” (Philippians 4:8)
 Bill Breckenridge

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Tragedy In Oregon - Triumph In Christ

Just about a week ago, the nation was staggered as news surfaced out of a small town in southwest Oregon. It was an all too familiar story of horror and indescribable pain after a lone gunman opened fire on a local community college killing  9 students before apparently killing himself as police arrived. Again it is a scenario that has become all too common in America and a terrible reminder of past atrocities now synonymous with names like Columbine High, Sandy Hook Elementary and Virginia Tech. 

This time the target was at Umpqua  Community College, a school with a total enrollment of about 5,000 located  in Roseberg Oregon. The deadly rampage began approximately 10:40 a.m. Pacific time. The details of exactly what occurred were a bit slow in coming since so many surviving witnesses were in shock. But the perpetrator was 26-year-old Christopher Harper Mercer reported to have been born in Los Angeles County in 1989.  

Mercer had enlisted in the U.S. Army back in  2008. But officials said he was discharged for "failing to meet the minimum administrative standards to serve”. Others have stated that he recently wrote that he was in a bad way, depressed and sullen. He also supposedly lamented that he did not have a girlfriend and felt he had no life. A note found by law enforcement at the scene said the deceased gunman  felt the world was against him.  Is was also reported that he studied other mass shooters before becoming one himself and had left a note that he’d be “welcomed in hell and embraced by the devil” after committing the brutal event.

After the shootings we heard about tightening the current gun laws, making new ones and how these weapons must be removed from citizens if this kind of thing is ever to be controlled. We heard about putting armed guards in schools nationwide to protect the innocent. We heard about the need for preventive counseling and dealing with the survivors of unthinkable traumas. We heard all manner of external reasons for why someone might be driven to do such a thing. 

But there are a few things, unfortunately,  that we are heard much less about. First and foremost, that these kinds of vile acts are typically a result of good old fashioned sin. When did you hear that word or concept discussed in all of the media coverage? Author and evangelist Alex McFarland said,  "There is a spiritual lesson to be learned and that America needs God. All people, as we know, need a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, but our nation needs to reacquaint itself with the God of our founders and with the Ten Commandments.This is about good and evil and more than it has to do with gun control. This killer would have chosen any means to carry out his motive. The point is, without the God of the Bible, there is no hope.”

With Christ, we have everything we will ever need – hope, purpose, a clear compass of right and wrong along with the restraining influence available in God’s Holy Spirit. And yet, this is the kind of logic and wisdom that seems totally missing from the political debate or the media’s discussions on this entire subject. I guess that would be just far too religious to tolerate?

There is also something else that quickly surfaced from the massacre, but that has not gotten nearly the attention it deserves. It has to do with some survivors reporting that the shooter was questioning and targeting Christians. Those who answered yes to being Christians were immediately shot in the head. Those who said they were not,  were often shot in a lesser fatal part of the body  If that indeed was true, at least a good part of why this occurred was religious persecution - particularly against followers of Jesus Christ - something happening more and more in a variety of venues in America. 

Could someone be mentally off enough to do this only because they are that  ill? Of course that is possible. But the impact of human sin cannot be ruled out, especially when considering all the factors here. Far more often than not, crime involves human depravity and a heart that is under the domination of sin. James 1:13-15 reads as follows: “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin , when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” And Jeremiah 17:9 declares, "The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?"  To ignore the reality, influence,  and consequences of human sin is to fully miss the major point when something like the mass murder in Oregon occurs.

 So in the light of yet another shocking mass shooting on an American campus, exactly what are we to think and react as Christians? Our initial reaction should be compassion for the suffering and fervent prayer for the families of the victims, the shooter’s family and everyone close who will be going through some very dark days ahead.

Then, as Christians, we must be ready to give an answer for the faith and hope we have. The evidencing of that hope to those who are hopeless without Christ. This is spelled out in 1 Peter 3:15. “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.” Our hope, even in the darkest times, should cause others to see it clearly enough to ask us of source of the light shining within  us.

We must also  forgive others despite how difficult that may be at times. Colossians 3:13 declares this in no uncertain terms stating, “If anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you , so you also must do.”  Must does not mean maybe. Christianity is based on forgiveness and, for those who have been forgiven all, there must be the full attempt and willingness on their part to forgive others.

 And then too,  must trust God’ even when things are beyond bleak knowing the reality of  Ephesians 1:11. Paul writes and declares that our Creator all-powerful and all-knowing ‘works all things according to the counsel of His will.’  

Finally, we must resist the temptation for vengeance. This is spelled out in Romans 12 where we read, "Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord.'"  This too can be very difficult when gross evil is committed and great suffering inflicted. But it is a direct commandment none the less and it must therefore  be possible for those who are in Christ and walking closely with Him.

Pray for the family and friends of those who just lost loved ones in Oregon. Pray for healing and an attitude of forgiveness. Pray that good will  rise from the ashes of evil in Roseberg. And especially pray that many will find Christ as Savior in the coming days there because some near the crisis “sanctified the Lord God in their hearts, and were ready to give an answer to everyone who asked them a reason for that blessed hope that is in and shines forth from them.

 "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.  And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die."  (John 11:25-26)
Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Yogi Berra - A National Treasure

Baseball icon and legend Yogi Berra passed away on September 22nd  in Montclair, New Jersey. He was age 90. His health had been failing as evidenced partly by his failure to at least appear at  the Yankees old-timers game this season. His wife, Carmen, to whom he was married for some 65 years, died back in 2014. 

He had a career batting average of .285 with  358 home runs and 1,430 runs batted in – an amazing feat for someone who stood only about 5'7".  Even more amazing is that he struck out just over 400 times in his career, a number that is unheard of for someone who hit with the kind of power he did. He is one of only five players to win the American League Most Valuable Player Award three times and is regarded as one of the greatest catchers in baseball history.

Yes, Yogi Berra is one of the all-time greats of the game. His name is mentioned along with the immortals  - those who stand above all others like Ruth, DiMaggio, Gehrig and Mantle. But aside from his remarkable career on the field and his selfless military service for his country off of it, Yogi is sometimes best known for his wit and for sayings he uttered now known as 'Yogisms". Any casual search online will list these incredibly simple, humorous and sometime profound utterances. Here are just a few:

- No one goes there nowadays, it's too crowded.
- Baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical.
- A nickel ain't worth a dime anymore.
- Always go to other people's funerals, otherwise they won't come to yours.
- It gets late early out here.
- Never answer an anonymous letter.
- You can observe a lot by just watching.
- It's like déjà vu all over again.
- It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much.

Then there are a few of his more  famous ones like these:
- When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
- The future ain't what it used to be.
- It ain't over till it's over.

Whether or not he said every one is up for debate. But even Yogi, with his classic sense of wit, said, "I never said most of the things I said." Who knows if he was again kidding around or just being so typically humble?

Berra was indeed special and unique. He will be missed by many in and out of sports. But now he is in eternity. His glorious 90 years on earth are done, and he left behind much to remember him by. But a few of the above quotes can be loosely applied to that greatest decision that everyone must eventually face.

According to the Bible, everyone must at some point choose where they will spend eternity. Even doing nothing is one of those choices – the wrong one! Scripture teaches that, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” For that reason, each will come to a mighty "fork in the road" spiritually speaking. That is described in Matthew 7:13-14 where God describes two opposing paths. "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction , and there are many who go in by it.  Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”  Again, there are two distinct "forks" – one destined for judgement and wrath and the other for glory!

One other Yogi quote is the one typically used in the sporting realm. "It ain't over till it's over.” In other words, there is always time to mount a comeback. If you have never yet accepted Christ as Savior, that opportunity still exists. It ain’t over – yet! But one day, and you know not when, the chance for redemption will be over. A moment will arrive when there will be no second chance to enter God’s family and spend eternity with Him in heaven. It will be over – one way or another!

Yogi is also credited with saying, “The future ain’t what it used to be.” Acts 16:31 says, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” All who trust in Him to fully forgive their sins redirect their eternal future instantly. Or, as Mr. Berra put it, for these, “the future isn’t what it used to be.” For all who choose that fork that leads to the "narrow road", the future is the exact opposite of what it previously was. It has taken a 180-degree turn since all striving to please God through meaningless good works is over – forever.

Thanks Yogi for a lifetime of memories. But thank you Lord for a new life in Christ and eternity in heaven!

“And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.  He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:11-13)

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Another Unjust Anniversary

Much of the world has its eyes continually fixed on the nation of Iran and with good reason. The global community takes note of every move made by this rogue and dangerous Middle-East nation. Its record speaks concerning its attitude and goals for Israel and America. But some of the evil being perpetrated there on a regular basis is about the human rights. And this is especially seen in the treatment of Christians in that land. According to Open Doors, an organization that serves the persecuted church worldwide, Iran is number seven on the list of worst nations as far as persecuting Christians. The true number of how many have been tortured, imprisoned, or even worse is not really known.

But what is known is the terrible plight of one special man.  His life has been made a living nightmare just for being a believer in Christ and daring to serve Him in that difficult spot in the world. His name is Pastor Saeed Abedini. He is a 35-year old American citizen currently serving an eight-year prison sentence primarily for his Christian faith. He was initially detained in late July 2012 while visiting family in Tehran and working on plans for an orphanage. On September 26 of that year, members of the Revolutionary Guard raided his parents’ home and took Pastor Saeed to an unknown location. Four days later, his family was informed that he was in solitary confinement in the notorious Evin Prison – a place known for housing the worst of the worst.  

During his confinement there and elsewhere, not only has the prisoner pastor had his life threatened regularly, but he has also suffered from some serious health issues that have not been attended to. He has likewise been denied the right to see his own family. He was sentenced for allegedly having undermined the Iranian government by creating a network of Christian house churches and attempting to sway Iranian youth away from the religion of the landIslam.

 It is hard to fathom to me that this desperate and dangerous Middle-East nation, which was desperately craving the recent controversial nuclear bargain, would not have allowed this one man to go free had the U.S. had put that on the table as a condition. Why on earth would they give up something they dearly wanted in order to hold on to something they did not really need?

But Saturday,  September 26 marks the 3-year anniversary of  Pastor Saeed’s imprisonment. His wife has been on a 21-day fast for his release and for others like him around the world. Concerning the plight of her husband she stated, “My husband is in jail simply because he loves Jesus Christ. When God’s joy and peace shine through in times like this, the world looks at it and says it doesn’t make sense. But they know there must be something behind it, so it draws the world to the reality of Christ.”

To any serious and sensitive Christian, the sad existence of Pastor Saeed, and so many others like him should not be something easily ignored. It is not easy to ignore a family member in any kind of significant trouble and neither should that be the case with one who is a brother or sister in Christ. They are family in the highest possible sense – in the spiritual and eternal realm. And they should be continually in our thoughts and prayers. 

Receiving grief and aggression for one’s faith should not come as a shock to anyone familiar with Scripture. Paul confirmed that clearly in 1 Timothy 3:12 when he wrote, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” If that is true, and it is if Scripture reveals it so, the issue becomes this: The question is not, "Why is Pastor Saeed being abused and what did he do to deserve his fate?", but rather the question becomes, "Why are any of us as believers not persecuted on some level if we are truly saved and in God's family? What is lacking in our Christian walk and witness if we never face any opposition as believers?"

Taking a stand for God should cost something. Depending on what and where that stand is taken will typically determine the level of  resistance that results. In Iran, it can come in the form of torture, imprisonment or even death. In America, it make come in the form of a county clerk being jailed because her faith hinders her from signing off on gay marriage licenses. 

Many down through Christian history could have found an easier road, but instead chose a higher one. They traveled the path of living fully and openly for their Lord. As a result, some suffered loss for His namethings that we cannot really fathom. And the very least we can do is to stand behind those in the family who are of the caliber of the ones seen in Hebrews chapter eleven. 

"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."  (Hebrews 11:35-38)

Pastor Saeed, and others today fit into this sacred "worthy" group of committed disciples. And these suffering saints, and their family members around the globe, are more than deserving of our efforts and fervent prayer!
Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

"Thou Shalt Not Defy The Court"

It is no secret that the impact of Christianity in America has seen an obvious decline in recent decades. The moral foundations and biblical principles that once held great sway and acted as the glue that held the culture together have fallen on hard times. Sometimes the faith itself is being ignored and at other times is under direct attack.

Some of these recent shifts are easily seen in what has now become morally acceptable. The legalization of gay marriage is the most recent example of something becoming the new norm in the land even though it would have been viewed as almost science fiction even a generation or so ago.

How many would ever have foreseen what happened to Kim Davis in Rowan County, Kentucky after the county clerk refused to put her stamp of approval on gay marriages? Who would have ever dreamed that a committed Christian public servant would be literally jailed for holding fast to her biblical convictions on a moral issue?  Davis stated to district judge David Bunning, "God's moral law conflicts with my job duties. You can't be separated from something that's in your heart and in your soul." The judge said, "Her good faith belief is simply not a viable defense, and nothing can allow an individual's beliefs to supersede the court's authority since that would set a dangerous precedent."

News of her imprisonment rocketed around the world, igniting a furious debate over religious freedom and the place of God in government. Davis’ lawyer stated that he  was "stunned" by the judge's ruling and said, "Knowing Kim Davis and her strong Christian resolve and convictions, she may be jailed behind bars, but her conscience remains free. She loves her Lord, she loves God, and she can't disobey her conscience or be disobedient."

In an interview, former Arkansas governor and current presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee compared Kim Davis' refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples to conscientious objections to slavery. He cited the landmark Dred Scott Supreme Court decision asking, "Is slavery the law of the land? Should it have been the law of the land because Dred Scott said so? Was that a correct decision? Should Lincoln have been put in jail because he ignored it?" Obviously not! He is an American hero and legend for his actions! Huckabee also reminded people that San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom performed same-sex weddings even though it was then illegal and was not thrown in jail. So why Davis on a much smaller scale? Maybe some religious bias?

The former governor also protested Davis’ lack of opportunity for bail and said that even Jeffrey Dahmer and the Boston Stranger received it. And as far as the high court itself, he said, “We have a check and balance system and three equal branches, and what we've seen here is the overreach of the judicial. This, if allowed to stand without any congressional involvement, it is what Thomas Jefferson warned us about - judicial tyranny.”

Huckabee then joined  protesters this past Tuesday at rally outside the jail where the Kentucky clerk was locked in a cell. During the day, Davis was suddenly released by the same  judge who had sent her there. Some second thoughts and a bit of pressure maybe? But he also warned her to stay clear from the issue, directly or indirectly, or face jail time again.

It is becoming more and more clear that being a Christian, and one who takes any outspoken stand against the increasing non-biblical trends in the culture, is the one of the most serious crimes that one can be charged with. Christians in growing contexts are literally becoming seen as common criminals whenever they seek to obey God rather than man. And those who hold strong biblical views on  controversial social  issues best be aware of the potential consequences if they ever dare to defy popular opinion or even the will of the nation’s high court.

America is standing, and has been for a time now, on very fragile moral ground and shifting cultural quicksand. Without serious prayer, loving but committed believers, and a sweeping revival, what just happened to a Kim Davis is likely to be just the beginning and the proverbial tip of the moral iceberg.

“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.”  (Proverbs 14:34)

Bill Breckenridge

The Deadly "Crystal Morning"

As I write this, it is just a few days before the 14th anniversary of the day that changed the world and America in particular. It is a day that, despite occurring almost a decade and a half ago, is as fresh in my mind as anything in my entire adult life. That likely holds true for millions to this day. Of course, this is the infamous terrorist attacks on the U.S. that quickly killed thousands and awakened a seemingly secure nation to the reality that they were anything but.

I just watched a brief video production called "Crystal Morning". How appropriate that title is as most can recall looking into the bluest of skies on that fateful morning. The film was just a few minutes long, but that was all I needed to have the feelings of horror and shock flood back just as they did when it was happening live before the entire world.

I watched people in utter shock and fleeing for their lives. I heard recordings of the distress calls from those who were caught in the upper floors of the buildings not knowing they were but minutes from death and eternity. I watched again the black smoke and roaring flames pour out from the once majestic structures. And I even caught a few glimpses of the so-called "jumpers" – those who made the unthinkable decision to leap to their deaths rather than be burned or suffocate to death. And again this was just a quick recap of the total horror of those sickening and indescribable hours.

The events of 9/11 were a wake-up call for Americans on so many levels. But what should have topped the list was the stunning realization that evil is real and aggressive, and that life is fragile and eternity is certain. When those mighty towers were struck and then fell, thousands of people perished including those in the other two locations of the attacks. The victims were from numerous countries and U.S. states. They came from every imaginable walk of life. They included those in the burning buildings, those trying to rescue them, those on the doomed planes and even the ones who hijacked them. And yet, when all of these external factors are peeled away, there were ultimately only two distinct groups involved that truly mattered.

When the dust literally settled, the flames died down and the rescue efforts stopped, there were only those who were ready to enter eternity and face God and those who were tragically not. There were those whose sins had been forgiven and  fit for heaven and those who were not. There were those who, at some point, had been saved from the eternal judgment through the prescribed biblical mandate and those who were not.

One of the bleak stats from 9/11 was the number of survivors rescued from Flight 93. That total was a sobering zero. Anyone who has seen images of the mind-boggling crash would never doubt that. And likewise, the Bible confirms that zero will escape final judgment unless God's only prescribed remedy for salvation is truly in place. 

Acts 4:12 declares it like this. “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."  That’s no other name, no other means, and no other route. Salvation is exclusive and precise and cannot be attained by human efforts. Ephesians2:8-9 states, “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.” Then also, we read the straightforward words in 1 John 5:11-12 that reveal the truth concerning spiritual readiness for eternity. “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”

Some who lost their physical lives on 9/11 had properly prepared themselves spiritually. They now reside in heaven and in the glorious presence of their Lord and Creator forever. These were fully ready on that deadly "Crystal Morning" because they had heeded God’s warning and accepted His way of redemption!  

“Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.” (Proverb 27:1)

Bill Breckenridge

Friday, August 21, 2015

Servers, Secrets and Sins

Questions and accusations regarding Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server for State Department e-mails continue to grow. Most agree that it was a poor decision at best. Others say it shows a lack of judgment and a disregard for both the law and the national security with which she was entrusted. There are also new questions about whether her non-government issued Blackberry was secure. Issues of legality, propriety, and national security are topics of discussion in nearly every news outlet.

Mrs. Clinton has stated that no e-mails containing classified information were sent or received, which may be hard to prove or disprove. The former Secretary of State says that she is cooperating with an investigation by the FBI. However, Mrs. Clinton’s lawyer told a Senate committee that e-mails and other data stored on the server were erased before it was turned over to the FBI. Forensics experts believe some data can be retrieved.

The fallout from the server scandal could be serious. Mrs. Clinton is increasingly seen as being untrustworthy, and falling poll numbers could put her presidential run in jeopardy. Worse, there is speculation that federal charges could be filed resulting in jail time.

In an opposite situation, numerous files of information was released this week by hackers who stole data from the Ashley Madison marital cheating website. Among those who had accounts on the website was Josh Duggar of “19 Kids & Counting”, who has confessed to a secret addiction to pornography and being unfaithful to his wife. The volume of information means that
the fallout will be far-reaching, and a lot of people will be living with the consequences of their secrets.

Although Hillary Clinton claims innocence and Josh Duggar has confessed his guilt, both situations serve as an illustration of biblical truth.

Devices and data records can be destroyed or wiped clean and accounts are thought to be private, but nothing can be kept secret from God. Even things that are done behind closed doors are not hidden from Him. “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:13) “‘Can anyone hide himself in secret places, so I shall not see him?’ says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 23:24)

Even our thoughts are not hidden from God. “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) “He knows the secrets of the heart,” according to Psalm 44:21.

Someday, all the data and activity from our lives will be made public. “For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 9:14) “And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.” (Revelation 20:12)

For some, the records are revealed even sooner. As Josh Duggar now knows, God will not allow private sin to continue if it dishonors Him. In exhorting the children of Israel to do all the Lord had commanded, Moses cautioned, “…if you do not do so, then take note, you have sinned against the Lord; and be sure your sin will find you out.” (Number 32:23) Paul wrote, “Be not deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” (Galatians 6:7)

The good news is that the record can be permanently wiped clean. “But this Man (Jesus Christ), after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God… ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days,’ says the Lord…‘Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.’” (Hebrews 10:12, 16) God sees all our sins, but when we put our trust in Christ as personal Savior, the evidence is destroyed and He forgets it ever existed! There can be no punishment if the evidence is gone.

Even sins committed by a child of God can be wiped away. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 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)

Bad decisions can have serious and sobering consequences. Accepting Christ as personal Savior is a decision with guaranteed joyful consequences – sins forgiven and eternal life with the Lord!

Gayle Virkler