Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Terrorists: Just Who Are They?

They came only about a week apart, thus not even giving the world time to process the first before dealing with the second. And we refer here to the two deadly terrorist attacks which took place on March 22 in a Brussels airport and then at an amusement park in Pakistan on Easter Sunday morning. Two separate Islamic fundamentalist groups, including ISIS, proudly took credit for the gruesome events.

In Brussels, some 35 died and another 300 were injured when multiple suicide bombers did their dirty work. It is thought that the attack was some sort of payback for the counter-terrorism efforts that have been going on there. Former Deputy Director of the CIA, Michael Morell, said the attacks were likely planned and could have been "accelerated" by the arrest of Salah Abdeslam, a prime suspect in the Nov. 13, 2015, Paris terror attacks.

Then in Pakistan, the second major attack took place when a breakaway Taliban faction, which publicly supports the Islamic State group, set off a powerful blast at a park where Christians had come together to celebrate Easter and the resurrection of Christ. When the bloody dust settled, over 70 were dead and 300 more wounded. Many of the dead were women and children. The group took immediate responsibility and even claimed that the carnage was specifically directed at Christians!

In another gruesome incident, the Archbishop of Vienna reported that ISIS crucified a Catholic priest on Good Friday.  Rev. Thomas Uzhunnalil had been kidnapped from a nursing home in Yemen on March 4. During the raid on the facility, run by Mother Teresa Missionaries of Charity, another 16 nurses and nuns were also murdered.

Considering the frequency and ferocity of terrorist activities at this precise time, it is rather stunning to see the reaction, or lack of it, from some of America’s current leaders. For example, just one day before the recent Paris attacks, President Barack Obama declared in an interview that ISIS had been "contained" asserting that the terror cell had been "stalled" in Iraq and Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry said in Brussels after the attack there, “The Islamic State is desperately lashing out in Europe because its base in the Middle East is 'rapidly eroding'." He also said that "basic decency and humanity" were the most effective responses to terrorism. And just how is that working out for you, Mr. Secretary?

And I wonder how that philosophy has been working out for those have been tortured, beheaded, buried alive, raped and drowned by the dozens in steel cages by ISIS and others like them? I wonder how well their desperate cries were heeded when they pleaded for decency and humanity just before they met the gruesome end? Even Hillary Clinton has stated that she will not use the term "Radical Islam" because it does not do justice to good Muslims. There may be some validity to that, but that does not negate the reality of millions who make up a deadly and aggressive form of radical Islam. They exist in alarming numbers all over the world regardless of what they are not referred to as or associated with.

Yes, there have been the typical strong words for the cameras about ending the scourge of ISIS and others like them. But words are sometimes just that. And to think that those willing to blow themselves up for their twisted cause will suddenly just allow their beliefs to "rapidly erode" and allow decency and humanity to cure them of their centuries old rage is pure lunacy. A quick look at the rise of Adolph Hitler will serve as a fine example of what does not work with pure evil and insane fanatics.

What is also interesting was the lack of one particular word from the White House after the Pakistan attack. It was, however, used immediately by the perpetrators themselves. It was the word Christian. Sometimes the absence of a key descriptive word says volumes about what is believed or valued. This type of thing was also evident in the recent California terrorist attack. The murders were labeled by the administration as just "workplace violence". Despite the facts that arose, some could not bring themselves to put the proper labels on those who carried their diabolical acts against the innocent. Here are a few descriptive words to chose from that might have been considered for starters. How about Radical, Muslim, Islamic, Jihadist, Fundamentalist and Terrorists? And maybe throw in anti-American and anti-Christian as well?

There are also some who go as far as to blame Christianity and Christians for many of the world’s current woes. They have no issue at all associating some occasional random act of violence by a sick, troubled and misguided mind who is somehow linked to the faith in any possible way. And yet, it is highly inappropriate to to point even a finger at a violent global movement whose stated goals are world domination and the downfall of America using even the most unimaginable methods to do so. To even call them by their rightful name or make reference to the source of their motives is to be off the fully off the table. Interesting logic?

In all of this, the source of the complex problem is fairly simple. It is human sin. James 1:14 states, “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.”  In the case of Radical Islam, the result is spiritual death along with the unfortunate demise of the innocents they single out for physical death.

I do not claim to know all of what other world religions teach, but I can see quite clearly the results of how some interpret their belief systems. But one thing is for certain. Christianity in no way promotes or accepts the kinds of the heinous things being perpetrated around the world today. The Bible is clear about sin. And it is clear about how to treat others. The Apostle Paul put it like this in Ephesians 4:31-32. “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” And in Romans 13:9-10 he wrote, “And if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Then too, we find a telling revelation that generally addresses this entire subject in 1 John 3. The words are not sugar-coated nor should they be. God always tells it like it really is and never adjusts His truth for political or religious correctness. Verse 10 begins, “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother's righteous.”

Unless the terms "righteousness", "evil" and "wickedness" have been fully redefined and reversed in this new century, it would seem obvious as to what today's terrorism is about, the true nature of those who carry it out, and exactly what their real source truly is!

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Why The Resurrection Too?

During the year, there are numerous holidays that are observed. These often result in massive celebrations, time off for work, parties, business closings, huge sums of money spent and decorations littering the landscape. Some last multiple days and even weeks such as at the Christmas season. And yet there is one event on the calendar that, despite not being as popular as most others, is without equal in its importance and significance. That is of course Easter – the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead

Yes, Christmas is the other major religious holiday. And it does fall into the same category at Easter. Without the miraculous and birth of Christ in the manger so long ago there would simply be no resurrection. And without the Savior’s death on Good Friday, and His subsequent resurrection, the entire human race would remain spiritually lost and doomed to suffer eternal wrath. The ramifications of this reality are literally to awful for the human mind to even begin to fathom.

But a loving God provided the escape plan through the events on that first Easter weekend. First, there was the crucifixion. There, Christ became the sacrificial substitute to atone for the sins of an entire race. That was achieved at the moment He cried out on the cross, ‘It is finished’. The price for all sin had been fully paid for once and for all – something only the sinless Son of God could accomplish. But there was more to come including a significant question.

If sin was fully paid for on the cross, and it was, then how crucial was the resurrection a few days later?  Apparently there were some in the days of the early church who believed that none would ever be bodily resurrected from the dead. For that reason, the Apostle Paul  penned some stunning and instructive words to those in the church at Corinth. He declared that this error in belief would take the entire heart out of the Gospel message and leave the effects crucifixion’s basically empty or in doubt.

In 1 Corinthians 15:16-19 Paul wrote, “For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not raised.  And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!  Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.”  In other words, the resurrection of Christ from the dead on that miraculous morning was the validation that the redemption paid on the cross was accepted and real. Without it, there could be no true certainty that the atonement had actually occurred. Christ’s return from the grave was beyond essential!
His rising from that sealed tomb literally sealed the deal of God's redemptive plan!

The crucifixion and the resurrection are a complete salvation package. They cannot be separated without nullifying the final results. Together they are the very core of Christianity and provide the only way for lost sinners to be fully forgiven and forever reunited to their Creator.

Today, the celebration of the resurrection does not typically even warrant a day off from work much less the kinds of things mentioned at the outset. But its value  makes all other days pale in comparison. That is because man’s response to the events on that sacred weekend long ago will determine his or her eternal destination when this brief life someday ends. And in order to have that destiny be the one of eternal blessing and joy in God’s presence, there is but one way. That solitary way is perhaps shared best in one of the best known verses in the Bible. 

The writer John put it like this: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." (John 3:16) In that one verse is found the pathway to Heaven. It reveals why God did what He did, how He did what He did, what we need to do in light of what He did and what we will gain when and if we do. Nothing in this life, and especially the  next, is more important than our personal response to the cross and the resurrection. Nothing!

"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (1 Cor. 1:18)
Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

What Is the Evangelical Vote?

The premier event of the 2016 Presidential election process thus far is now in the books. Everyone knows it as simply Super Tuesday. Votes were cast in eleven states and involved all the remaining candidates in both parties.

The GOP had five candidates standing when the night began and the Democrats just two. The results overall did not seem to shock too many. Donald Trump carried seven states on the Republican side. His nearest rival was Ted Cruz, who carried three including his home state of Texas. Hillary Clinton also gathered seven states and Bernie Sanders the other four to round out the totals for the Democrats.

Again, the results were not very surprising with what most knew going in through the polls. But there is one thing in particular that continues to come as a little puzzling to many people I know, including myself. It is the current level of support for one Donald Trump by the so-called evangelical community.

My amazement has nothing to do with Trump’s ability or stances on most issues. It is not about his sometimes abrasive nature in public. Actually, these things have seeming added to his appeal. But on Super Tuesday evening, one political commentator stated that in exit polls nearly seven of ten said that their number one reason for wanting Trump was that they desired a total Washington outsider more than any other factor. In other words, they were beyond fed up with the nonsense in their government and just wanted whoever they felt would go against the grain and change the frustrating stalemate there.

Anyone who is alert and cares about such matters can sympathize with the ongoing workings of the nation’s leadership. The last time around we were promised "Change You Can Believe In". And without question, change did come. But for a huge segment of the country, it was neither welcome change nor anything even close to what they believed to be right morally or spiritually.

But now a popular candidate has arisen who seems to have little understanding of what has long been evangelical values. He seems biblically clueless. He even stated once that he did not need forgiveness – something that would seem to fly in the face of anything solidly and seriously Christian. And yet, "The Donald" is carrying an impressive percentage of evangelicals’ support – even when there are a few other viable candidates whose lives and views seem fairly solid in this camp. So with all things being fairly equal politically speaking, why is this the deal here? I believe the answer can be seen in the definition of the term itself. The following description was taken from the website

Question: "What is an Evangelical Christian?"

Answer: "To begin, let's break down the two words. The term Christian essentially means 'follower of Christ.' Christian is the term given to followers of Jesus Christ in the first century A.D. (Acts 11:26). The term evangelical comes from the Greek word that means 'good news.' Evangelism is sharing the good news of the salvation that is available through Jesus Christ. An evangelical, then, is a person dedicated to promoting the good news about Jesus Christ. Combined, the description 'evangelical Christian' is intended to indicate a believer in Jesus Christ who is faithful in sharing and promoting the good news."

To make a long story short, it seems to me that the term "evangelical" may well mean far less than it once did and, thus, perhaps it now includes many who were previously never seen as part of this group. Or it may also mean that many who claim the title of evangelical do not have the same standards or beliefs as they did in the past. It is likely a combination of the two. If so, perhaps it is time for there to be a new term for those who hold closely the core, historic and fundamental tenants of New Testament Christianity. There has always differing biblical values, practices and beliefs within what is termed Christianity.  But it seems that there now needs to be some kind of re-distinguishing between them. A new and more accurate term is in order.

Voting for a president is not the same as selecting a pastor for a church. But there are certain qualities that should be seriously considered by any Christian voter, especially if there happens to be candidates available that share their core Biblical beliefs and also their particular political views.

The Bible states in 1 Timothy 2:1-3, “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.” And it seems that the very best way to be able to live a life that is "peaceable, godly and reverent" is to support those who best reflect the God of true Biblical and evangelical Christianity as defined above!

Bill Breckenridge