Thursday, October 12, 2017

Ready to Die? And Ready to Share?

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

These are solid words of wisdom for anyone at any time. But the recent string of natural disasters, including hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and fires, and the mass shooting in Las Vegas certainly brings this great truth to the surface in the most dramatic manner. The final toll in lives and damage may not be known be for some time. But one thing is certain: those who have lost their lives had no idea they would be in eternity so suddenly. And, sadly, there will be more disasters to come with more lives lost.

In the light of that stark reality, those who are in Jesus Christ, and therefore spiritually ready to face tragedy, should reassess their true efforts to share their saving faith with those who are not. The same loving God who offered His own Son for the salvation of all is also the Judge of all who never turn to Him for redemption and forgiveness. The writer of Hebrews summed it up quite candidly: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31)

The destiny of those who lost their lives in the ravages of nature and by a madman's bullets is now eternally set. But those who survived have been given a sacred second chance. They still have the priceless opportunity to act on God’s free offer of forgiveness and the security found only in Jesus Christ. But more often than not, that requires Christians to be involved in the process. Romans 10:17 states the expected and effective method. “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

Pray for those who are part of God’s family of faith in Texas, Florida, the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, Mexico, California and Las Vegas. Pray for their own spirits to be lifted and comforted by God’s indwelling Holy Spirit. And pray that, in the midst of unimaginable chaos and loss, they can muster the spiritual strength and motivation to boldly share His supernatural peace and miraculous saving power!

“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.” (1 Peter 3:15)

Bill Breckenridge

(This post was updated from a NEWSpoint blog written in 2013. It is a testimony to the truth that God's Word is always relevant.)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Dual Hurricanes. Why?



For several weeks, there was nothing else in the news for the most part. The nation was largely riveted to The Weather Channel as non-stop coverage covered the arrival of not one, but two, major hurricanes that would crash into the U.S. coast two weeks apart.
 
First came Harvey, a powerful storm that came across the warm Gulf of Mexico and hit Texas head on. The Category 3 made landfall with 125 mph winds. But the damage came in the way of massive flooding produced by rainfall totals of 50 plus inches in some places. That was because the storm stalled in the area for several days due to being trapped between two high pressure weather systems. That amount of the damage will take a while to assess, but may approach or even exceed that of Katrina  just 12 years earlier almost to the day.

The other storm was Irma. This monster speed across the Caribbean as a Category 4 and 5 at times. It literally obliterated many of the small islands there and some that are well known resort areas. It then made its way towards Cuba and set its sights in Florida. Because of the sheer size, Florida saw the greatest evacuation ever for a storm there. Irma was originally supposed to strike the Miami area. But it turned at the last minute and ventured up the west coast of the state. Overall, the potential damage for Irma was not quite as significant as first feared. But there still was significant damage, and it impacted the entire state before moving into Georgia and beyond.

Many are offering their opinions and guesses as to why these storms came so fast, furious and so close together. And the hurricane season is far from over. There could be more, and who knows how intense they might also be? But it is interesting that at least among some Christian leaders from various places, there is one theme that often arises. It was said by Max Lucado, James Robison, Greg Laurie, Franklin Graham, Kirk Cameron and many others. They all mentioned that is very possible, if not likely, that God is at least trying to get the attention of the American people through these storms.

Natural disasters began the moment sin entered the world when mankind fell in the Garden of Eden. And they will continue, and even increase, according to Romans 8:22. "For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.’" We also know that the last days will bring increased troubles in nature according to Luke 21:25. "There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves." 

And we know that, along with these things, there will be moral conditions that echo those back in the day when God personally sent the storm of all storms and the flood that made all others look like child’s play. In Matthew 24, we read, “But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” 

Did God personally send Harvey, Irma or Katrina? I have no idea. Sometimes these things come through the natural laws of nature that He put in place long ago, and they are part of life in a fallen world. Could Satan have had a part here? Perhaps. If you don’t think that is possible, read the book of Job where God permitted the Devil do everything but kill Job – including the use of a violent storm wind storm that killed most of his family.

But the issue in the aftermath of these storms, both of which took human life, is this: Are we really ready to face what these kinds of catastrophes bring? Are we living for only ourselves as the above passage described back in Noah’s day? Are we among those who reject or miss the vivid warning given in James 4:13-14? “Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit'; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” 

One blog In The Christian Post said this. "These storms should reveal to us all at least four essential things. Everything is broken. Everyone needs a Savior. We must pray fervently. And God is still merciful." Those four statements, and what they fully represent, speak well to what the deepest answers to all of life’s most crucial issues are!

Today we have days and sometimes weeks of warning of what is coming in the way of a major storm like Harvey or Irma. The term that is typically front and center is "preparation" whether that includes protecting property and perhaps evacuation. Both those vital things in a dangerous hurricane will never work and are of no use in the spiritual realm. The Bible says in Mark 8:36-37 "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?  Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" 

During the evacuations, we heard authorities advise people to flee the storm and get out while they could. I heard one phrase over and over. "We can rebuild homes and replace cars. But we cannot rebuild lost lives." That was perhaps more profound that even they knew when considering eternity in the mix.

Perhaps today you do not live anywhere near where frightening and destructive storms typically strike. If so, that is a blessing, and do your part to support those who do. But just know that there is no safety or place to run and hide for a lost soul outside of the preparation that is personal faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Only the Savior can prepare any of us for life’s storms big and little and to even face death itself while sheltered in His loving ark of redemption!

"Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)


Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Fall of Denominations?




A recent story at Christianpost.com offered a very interesting and intriguing story taken from a recent Gallup poll. It stated this in the title: "More Protestants Now Do Not Identify With Specific Denomination". It was revealed that the numbers who were aligned with denominations dropped from 50% to 30% in the years from 2000 to 2016. That is something that may have been  hard to believe or predict only a generation or two ago. The poll surveyed over 2,000 adults and in all 50 states in the US.

The article also shared that many surveys in recent years have found a rising demographic of Americans known as simply "nones". These claim to have absolutely no religious identification at all. When looking at this group, we find that their numbers have also doubled in the same time frame. That means that one in five adults in that group now have no link to any official organized religious group whatsoever in a so-called Christian nation.

For the first one thousand years of Christianity, there were no denominations as there are today. Various offshoot groups certainly existed early on, but most were small and quickly snuffed out as "heresies."

The first major division within Christendom came in 1054 with the divide between the Western Church and the Eastern Church. From that point forward, there were two large branches of Christianity that came to be known as the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. The next major division was the Protestant Reformation, sparked in 1517 by Martin Luther's publication of 95 Theses against certain Catholic practices. The Reformation marked not only a break between Protestantism and Catholicism, but the beginning of Christian denominationalism and sectarianism as we know it today.

But what comes to mind when we think of a religious denomination? Here is one definition I saw. "An organized Christian Church or tradition or religious group or community of believers or aggregate of worship centers or congregations, usually within a specific country, whose component congregations and members are called by the same name in different areas, regarding themselves as an autonomous Christian church distinct from other denominations, churches and traditions."

With that said, about how many denominations exist in the world today? According to Christianity Today,  there are now approximately 38,000 Christian denominations. About 242 are Roman Catholic and the bulk of the rest are protestant. And it is estimated there will be some 55,000 by the year 2025. Currently, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary estimates that a new Christian denomination is formed every 10.5 hours. That is an amazing concept when considering what is happening in the United States.

We need to pause here and note, just in case it is not obvious already, that there are sometimes significant theological differences between the main branches of Christianity. Then, too, there are sometimes differences in the doctrinal beliefs and traditions even within one particular denomination.  And the truth is that there are some groups that really do not meet even the minimum biblical qualifications that should allow them to be called Christian at all. 

So what about what we are seeing along these lines today especially in America? Is this overall shrinking on many fronts a bad thing? Or is it something that needed to happen in order to open up better ways for the church to relate to a modern culture? And do we really need literally hundreds or thousands of these religious divisions each having their own unique concepts and theological twists? Well the answer to these questions will depend on who you ask and probably what kind of church they now attend.

I have no idea what side of the fence you fall on to with this subject. If you are in traditional denominational church, you may be fiercely loyal to that  kind of ministry and congregational lifestyle. If you are not, you may feel that that denominations have had their day and it is time for a new day. Your personal views are between you and God.

But with that said, for any church or denominational to be valid and come under the banner of Christian, certain essential beliefs must be adhered to. Some have said that a problem with being in a strict denominational system is that "doctrine tends to divide". It is easy to say that and easy to believe it. And there are times where that can be true. But is that necessarily always a bad thing?  

Our convictions about theological issues are crucial. When there is a lack of understanding core doctrinal truths, or they are flat out incorrect, the result can be confusion and even heresy. And when that takes place, especially with essential truths like salvation, that can be eternally deadly. Doctrinal disasters happened in the early church and wreaked havoc, and these errors were the reason that some of the New Testament epistles had to be penned.

When a church body exists outside of a denominational affiliation, they must be certain to form some biblically accurate doctrinal statement and stand by it. To disregard doing so is spiritually careless, not to mention potentially dangerous. As it has been rightly said, "When we don't stand for something, we can fall for most anything."

So what are the core beliefs of Christianity? What should be the essential bare minimum whether within the confines of a denomination or not? And what does a group or person need to believe in order to rightly be called Christian?

There are a few things would seem fairly essential. There must be a firm belief in the inspiration and authority of Scripture since everything else logically springs from that divine source. (2 Timothy 3:16-17) There should be the belief in the Creator God who is eternal, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient and holy. It should be understood that man was made in God's image, but that his willful sin broke their perfect fellowship causing instant eternal death and eventually physical death. (Romans 3:23) And it must be known that this breach has to be reconciled apart from any works man can ever do. (Titus 3:5) Then, most importantly, there must come the absolute conviction, through faith, that Jesus Christ is God's Son and one's only personal Savior. (Ephesians 2:8-9) It must be believed that it is His sacrificial death on the cross that brings forgiveness, justification and the only escape from eternal judgment. Yes, there are many other important theological truths to consider, but these are the primary ones to start with because these all have direct bearing on genuinely becoming a true Christian to begin with.

The whole denomination issue will likely continue on for years to come, and the organized church in America may well look vastly different than it does now not far down the road. But what is of the utmost importance is that people base their eternal salvation on those essential truths that God's Word makes abundantly clear.  And then, in addition, that they find a local church that understands the Bible, reveres it, teaches it, and serves the God who authored it.

"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,  that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

Bill Breckenridge

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Eugene Peterson: What Does He Believe?



It was like a shot heard around the world. Or least it was strongly heard around the Christian world. It sounded off when Eugene Peterson, one of the most influential authors among evangelical pastors, recently responded to a question from an interview with Religion News Service. He was asked at one point that, if he was pastoring today, would he marry a same-sex couple? His quick and shocking answer came in the form of a yes!
 
That brief, but sobering, response stunned evangelicals everywhere. And a significant number of them quickly responded with disappointment. Beyond that, the largest Christian bookstore chain in the U.S. began considering whether or not to pull Peterson’s books from their shelves including his best-selling Bible paraphrase The Message.

The next day, Peterson released a long statement seen in full at The Washington Post. There, he retracted his former yes and stated that  he would actually not perform a same-sex wedding ceremony. He said, “That’s not something I would do out of respect to the congregation, the larger church body, and the historic Christian view and teaching on marriage. That said, I would still love such as couple as their pastor. To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything.”
Of course so-called biblical views can vary greatly on any given subject depending who you talk to.

At least Peterson seemed to have quickly returned to his senses and said the right thing after saying the wrong one. But it must be wondered now what he really does believe? His reversal was a good thing, but it fell short of giving any specific Biblical reasons for it. But that may not be all that shocking. It has been pointed out by some that he has never been very clear on many controversial, and even theological, questions. And when it comes to his writings, they are generally about pastoral theology and very light on Biblical doctrine. And it should be noted that the denomination that he served in for almost 30 years is one of the most liberal in the nation on many moral, social and theological issues.

So what now for Peterson? At the minimum, his reputation has been damaged even if his books now continue to be sold because of his altered answer on his original answer. But he is now age 84 and has already lived most of his life. He made his mark as a pastor and author. So perhaps what happened will not really change his life all that much. But what about those still in the ministry today and specifically pastors?

This same question and answer that made the news is not over by any stretch for them. But is rather quite symbolic and representative of what will be occurring more and more as time goes on. It will be thrust upon younger pastors who do not share Eugene Peterson’s fame, fortune or age.  These current leaders in church ministry will likely face this same question at some point their lives – perhaps sooner than they think. Only for these, it will not be just for an interview. For many it will impact their lives, families, churches and the very future of their ministry careers!

Perhaps we will never know what Eugene Peterson really believes in his heart. That is ultimately between him and his God. But when it comes to what any Christian believes, the number one issue is that it must be based in solid Scriptural truth and not on the personal or societal whims of the hour.

I pass a small church each Sunday and they often have clever sayings on their outdoor sign. The one this week said, “Don’t believe everything that you think.” How simple and yet profound that is. And how significant especially when it relates to spiritual matters? Many "believe" they are going to heaven because they "think" they are good enough to get there on their own merits. But what they think about this weighty subject is irrelevant no matter how much they may believe it. And in this case, it is their eternal destiny that is at stake!

When it comes to the moral questions of our day, it does not matter what we think or even what we believe. All that matters is what God clearly teaches us to believe. If something is wrong according to God’s Word, then our duty is to agree with that no matter what the reactions around us may be. That is called having convictions! And hopefully the church of Christ can muster up enough of this now rare commodity to stand out as lights in this present and foretold darkness as the return of their Lord draws near!

“But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: We ought to obey God  rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)

Bill Breckenridge