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