The Nudge

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The last eclipse

 

“Be still, and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10).”

 

“You never know what may cause them. The sight of the Atlantic Ocean can do it, or a piece of music, or a face you’ve never seen before. A pair of somebody’s old shoes can do it…. You can never be sure. But of this you can be sure. Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next.”

Frederick Buechner wrote that in “Beyond Words.” It’s a warning to the foolishness of being too busy and missing God’s quiet nudge. Busyness drowns out the nudge.

Screenshot 2017-11-20 11.32.47.pngPerhaps his best quote

The supreme time that is jam-packed with busyness is right now, a dangerous stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which is a shame because we miss the point of both holidays in our attempt to celebrate them. And the sad thing about that hamster wheel is that Jesus is the point of these holidays, and like Martha we miss Him altogether in our busyness (Luke 10:38-42). Why are they so significant?

Thanksgiving is a reflection on our past year. It’s meant to contract our busy and divided heart into the united position of thankfulness for His kindnesses. Like the Pilgrim Edward Winslow’s observation, despite all of our past difficulties, “By the goodness of God, we are far from want.” Thankfulness gets you through the messes because you’re acknowledging His sovereignty.

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Giving thanks at their arrival

Christmas is different. It’s a reminder that life is not about death, but about being rescued from it. God Himself became flesh to die for our sins and restore us to Himself. The Incarnation; God with us. Like the carol says, “To save us all from Satan’s power when we had gone astray.” One holiday looks back and the other looks forward.

Or as Beuchner wrote about looking forward, “Where…you should go next.” An interesting phrase that is as innocent as a blossom, but as profound as the rings of Saturn. “Where you should go next,” means after you die and your “next” is a titanic choice.

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An actual NASA image of Saturn from Cassini

Accepting a Christmas gift is a choice too, but it’s not yours until you receive it. His Christmas gift is a new start, as John 1:12 says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.”

So maybe quiet your holiday busyness and just take a walk with Him. Perhaps a stroll in a snowy wood or some lonely path around a lake, and ponder this question about your next:

If I died tonight, am I one hundred percent certain I’d go to Heaven? If you’re not positive, why not receive His Christmas gift?

the-lamb-of-god

The Nudge personified

 

 

 

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An Appreciation of Nosy Shepherds

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Cyrano de Bergerac

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you have anointed my head with oil; my cup overflows (Psalm 23:5).”

 

Funny how some things stick with you, isn’t it? They say a sermon is no good if you aren’t still thinking about it on Tuesday. I remember very few sermons as a kid, but I do recall one about sheep.

Our pastor had some experience with sheep. He said they were dumb, so dumb in fact that if the lead ram with the bell was on one side of a bush, the sheep on the opposite side didn’t know enough to go around it to follow him back to the safety of the pen!

Shepherds aren’t much in vogue these days, but they once were very much so as we see in the Bible, and how they are likened to leading the Church, God’s flock. A good shepherd, however, does much more than teach memorable sermons on Sunday.

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“All we like sheep have gone astray….”

To gain an appreciation of our Chief Shepherd, and also your local Shepherd, I’d encourage you to read “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23” by W. Phillip Keller. Here’s a snippet from his chapter on Psalm 23:5 about how a shepherd’s oily care makes a difference with biting insects, flies that lay eggs in their nostrils, and other aggravating parasites:

“What an incredible transformation this would make among the sheep. Once the oil had been applied to the sheep’s head there was an immediate change in behavior. Gone was the aggravation, gone the frenzy, gone the irritability and the restlessness. Instead, the sheep would start to feed quietly again, then soon lie down in peaceful contentment.”

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“The Good Shepherd lays down His life….”

Did you know that October is set aside as Pastor Appreciation month by some churches? Most of them forget all about it. The Shepherd is foolishly taken for granted. Like the oil-anointed sheep in this passage, most Christians go on about their day without any consideration for their important pastoral care that leads to “peaceful contentment.”

I’d like to encourage you to not be that sheep, and show some appreciation for your pastor this month. As Hebrews 10:24 says, and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,” think about what would encourage him; perhaps a compliment, offering to serve his family, letting him know you’re praying for him every day this week, or a small gift that shows you care. Whatever it is, make it matter.

So please take some time to obey 1 Thessalonians 5:11 as it relates to the man who cares for your spiritual needs. Don’t be that dumb sheep. Step around the bush, and show some gratitude for a very hard and oily job…so you don’t have to endure wriggling larvae in your nose. And yeah, I hope that image sticks with you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why Bother…Him?

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Rocco Francis Marchegiano…still undefeated.

 

Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying, “In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth (Luke 18:1-8)?”

I’ve learned three “very” things about prayer. Prayer can be very confusing, very difficult, and very humbling (after all, we’re admitting we need His help). Jesus cleared it up with a story about our corruption and God’s goodness.

Prayer can be confusing because we know the answer is not always yes, but we also know God loves us and wants to help. Wouldn’t a yes be helpful? No, just because we ask doesn’t make it the right thing or the right timing. Every parent knows this. “Wrong” or delayed answers require trust that Father knows best, which is very difficult.

As a teen, my buddies had mini-bikes, sturdy motorized scooters that went about 40 miles an hour, illegally zipping through our Detroit streets. I begged my folks for one, but like the Red Ryder BB Gun refrain from the movie A Christmas Story, “You’ll break your leg” is all they said (and my pal Jeff Bacynski did just that when a car hit him!).

ec644093ab1872d1c702a6183d6d6371The answer is “No!”

God is not a cosmic vending machine. He’s a loving, sovereign Father. Bugging Him shows our sincerity and genuine need (unlike that infatuated kid in the checkout line who wants candy, then gum, then some other shiny bauble). Wants come and go, but a need is different. Enter Jesus’ pugilistic parable on persistence.

In one corner is a crooked heavyweight judge, taking bribes, perhaps bribes against the widow’s case. The challenger is a grieving widow––maybe a fresh widow, homeless and needing “legal protection” with no husband on the deed with scared, crying children. She’s desperate with no choice but to fight. So she goes the distance, 15 brutal rounds until he tosses in the towel (in Greek “wear me out” means “to give a black eye”). Prayer sounds like painful, hard, Rocky work.

Why bother?

The answer is hidden in the context, the Second Coming. The Church is like this widow, without her Bridegroom, and seeking justice in a world that “does not fear God nor respect man.” Since Eden, our flesh doesn’t want to seek God, so we run. Like any loving Father, He wants us to come back, and your needs bring you home.

Look at another story Jesus told in Luke 15:11-32,

And He said, “A man had two sons.  The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them.  And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living.   Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished.  So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.  And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him.  But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger!  I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight;  I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”’  So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.  And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.

“Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.  And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be.  And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.’  But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him.  But he answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends;  but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.’  And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours.  But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’”

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Ralph with a “Yes!”

That’s A (real) Christmas Story. Coming home to a loving Father, and it all starts with a single prayer. So by all means, bother Him so He finds your “faith on the earth.”

 

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My Brother Died Today

101562_DKM_02[3].jpgFred, second from our right, at a birthday party (1962).

“For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.  For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked.  For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life.  Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge (2 Corinthians 5:1-5).”

 

Fred was 63 years old.  Pancreatic cancer took a visible toll and took him fast.  As sad as the last two weeks have been, today is also pretty exciting because Fred surrendered to Jesus Christ many years ago.  Today, right now, Fred is with the “firstborn from the dead,” eyeball to eyeball with Jesus of Nazareth.  Wow!

IMG_4455.JPGFred and me (in the saddle) at our Detroit home in 1966

I’m very sad and miss him, but if the resurrection is true (and I’ve bet my life on it as a fact) then this is also a celebration!  A weird rollercoaster of emotions, I know, but either Jesus did rise from the dead and we have a whole new world to enjoy with Him forever with our redeemed loved ones, or as Paul said, “we are of all men most to be pitied.”

When death comes, religious mumbo jumbo is the most worthless and empty thing imaginable, trying to be good with man-made traditions.  That’s religion, but I’m talking about an empty tomb in Jerusalem.  It’s about the man Who came back to life, God-in-the-flesh, rescuing us!

Watching the visible cancer slowly destroy Fred’s mortal tent reminded me of the invisible cancer we all share (sin).  We are all dead spiritually because of sin, and in the process of dying physically too (Ephesians 2:1).  A hereditary cancer passed down from Adam.  Paul said in Romans, For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.”

IMG_4472.JPGThe Three Amigos (me, our older brother Joe, and Fred) in 2015

Thankfully, Jesus proved that His death satisfied God’s requirement to solve the sin and death problem when He rose from the dead and killed death.  If you are “in Christ” then your grave can be just as empty. How can you be sure and excited about your death, absolutely, 100 percent sure death has no sting for you?  The answer is above, in 2 Corinthians 5:5.

God offers a “down payment” to guarantee He will follow through on His commitment to save you from your spiritual cancer.  His pledge––a thing that is given as security for the fulfillment of a contract or the payment of a debt––or “earnest money” as we say in a business transaction, is the Holy Spirit Himself.

His deal to you is this…give up. Stop trying to be good enough.  A corpse can’t do anything, and spiritually you are a corpse.  Let Him take charge of you, body and soul, and invite His Spirit into your body to be in command.  It’s simple.  Repent and believe.

Paul summed it up in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?  For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.”

You can be absolutely certain your death is dead too, if the Holy Spirit is inside of your body because you asked Him to come in on His terms…total surrender (“not your own”).  You are not a Christian if He is not inside of you right now.

IMG_4473.JPGA week to live with Lilly, the latest addition to our family

Fred didn’t live a perfect life, but he had the Pledge inside of his earthly tent.  God guarantees this transaction with a down payment of Himself.  An empty grave in Jerusalem is darn good collateral that God will complete His deal with you.  Without Him, you are spiritually naked and in grave danger.

Jesus, the Living Water, is our only hope to defeat death.  As Jeremiah prophesied about Him, thousands of years before His death and resurrection,  “O Lord, the hope of Israel, all who forsake You will be put to shame.  Those who turn away on earth will be written down, because they have forsaken the fountain of living water, even the Lord (Jeremiah 17:13).”      

 

 

 

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August 6, 1988

8-6-88 6The Wedding in Reading!

And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come (Matthew 22:1-3).”

Almost 30 years ago, I sent Bob Dylan an invitation to our wedding, and just like the guests in this parable, my hero didn’t come. Despite that snub, inspired by a Dylan song called, “The Groom’s Still Waiting At The Altar,” I wrote this for the back of our wedding program for those who did come:

IMG_4327.JPGZimmy, after he got engaged (gave his life to his Messiah)!

Well, it’s hard to believe that our wedding day is finally here! We’ve been looking forward to this day (and sharing it with all of you) for a long time. Excitement, anticipation, and joy are just a few of the emotions that we’ve been experiencing in thinking about our wedding day. The day that I am finally united with my bride, and she with me! But even more important than our wedding day is another wedding day that we’d like to invite all of you to now.

This wedding is a very special one because it is a wedding that is being arranged by God and everyone is invited. It says in the Bible that Jesus Christ is the groom and that the bride will be everyone who accepts His proposal. This very unique couple will one day be united forever in Heaven, but only those people who choose to respond can be His bride. When I asked Amy to marry me, it was then up to her to decide whether or not she wanted to choose to enter into that commitment with me. It wasn’t until she did accept my proposal that we could get to the point we are at here today.

In the exact same way, each of you must consider Jesus’ proposal. “Proposal?” you may be wondering. “When did Jesus ever propose to me?” Well, He said it a long time ago, but more important than what He said is what He did. Jesus demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us. That was His proposal, one of action. In the same way, through our action, we must respond to that sacrifice by accepting Him as our groom.

Several years ago, Amy and I both decided to accept His proposal of love. Since then, we have both been anxiously awaiting the day that we are united with Him as our groom. As you watch our ceremony today, we’d like you to think of the wedding that is yet to be in Heaven. We’d like to see all of you there too, but that is your own personal decision. After all, that’s precisely what love is, a personal choice.

Thanks for sharing this wedding with us. Hope to see you at the other one too.

8-6-88 13aWho needs rice?

So the next time you go to a wedding, think about His proposal to you, but realize He won’t wait forever. Eventually, there will be a wedding with or without you, just as ours was… without Bob Dylan (Revelation 19:7).

8-6-88 9.jpgOff to the Bahamas!

 

 

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Genesis Land

IMG_2940.JPGBenny the camel 

In Hebrew it’s called “lekh-l’kha” or “lech lecha.”  This was the famous “call” to a 75-year old man named Abram to leave his home in Ur of Chaldees and to go to an unknown place, a place that God would show him, as recorded in Genesis 12:1-3,

 “The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’”

IMG_2934.JPGEliezer, the servant of Abram

And so the Hebrew nation was promised, and so it began with a man who was told to leave Mesopotamia (“between the rivers”), his home in the wealthy city of Ur with almost 25,000 people, for Canaan…what would become Israel. Abram obeyed God and left, not knowing where he was going, but by faith he believed God (Hebrews 11:8).

Today, within a two-hour walk of where Abraham is known to have settled, you can meet Abraham again in the heart of the Judean desert, at a place called Genesis Land.

Genesis Land is a time machine that transports you back to around 2000 B.C. to Abraham’s tent, where the famous hospitality of the desert is in full force as we see in the Bible when Abraham has three guests visit him (Genesis 18:1-8). This land is a harsh place and a good host was obliged to provide food, water, and shelter (sometimes this was a matter of life and death in an arid land like Judea). Abraham even bowed to the three strangers which may seem strange to us, but it was typical desert hospitality, as was washing their dusty feet (John 13:1-6).

After a welcome introduction from his servant, Eliezer, you are robed and invited to break bread with Abraham in his tent (a full meal with six fresh salads, breads, beef kabobs over yellow rice, date honey chicken, dried fruit, and tea or coffee).

IMG_0315.JPGTwo at a time!

While you enjoy this scrumptious feast, Abraham himself welcomes you to his home and explains how he came to be here. The re-enactor, Josh Goldsmith, does a masterful job of portraying the Father of the Jews and oozes hospitality (Hebrews 13:2). He really connects with you and you get the distinct feeling that you are his dearest friend. This is the essence of the shepherd tent hospitality so famous in the Scriptures (Exodus 2:20).

After this very satisfying meal and a truly pleasurable time with Abraham (who makes you feel like a prince), it’s time to leave…by camel!

One of the must-do things when you go to Israel is ride a camel, and here at Genesis Land you are given the opportunity to do just that. It’s just one more thing that reminds us of the rich heritage that Israel has had over the centuries as a welcoming land to strangers, as Josh puts so succinctly,

IMG_2938.JPGTaking a break

An experience at Genesis Land is intrinsically inspiring because it brings the Bible to life in the actual setting of our ancestors. Sharing the power of Abraham’s hospitality ismething people can relate to themselves and translate it into their own lives. The world would likely be a better place if we spent more time sharing each other’s company.”

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Josh “Abraham” Goldsmith and a friend

Amen! And doing it over a hot meal in a cool tent, and later on a warm camel, makes it all the more enjoyable. Be sure to stop in to visit with Abraham while you are in his land of the Bible. It’s guaranteed to be a refreshing stop that you’ll never forget on your own lech lecha!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Jesus Boat

IMG_2100.jpgA remarkable catch

In a life lived in a desert country, a drought is as much a part of living as dying. It’s a harsh place, especially in biblical times when those in Galilee depending on fishing to make it. A drought almost always brings bad times, even death.

Late in January 1986, during one such drought, between the ancient harbors of Gennesar and Magdala, local residents (ironically fisherman brothers like Peter and Andrew) made the chance discovery of a boat’s oval outline in the muddy lake bed. Word spread like wildfire. In less than two weeks, local newspapers were announcing discovery of “the Jesus Boat!”

Archaeologists, called to examine the still unexcavated vessel, announced it was the first ancient ship ever found in the Sea of Galilee. They suggested that it was built and used between 100 B.C. and 100 A.D. – the time of Jesus of Nazareth!

Marathon round-the-clock excavations ensued, racing against both now-rising waters of the Sea of Galilee and treasure seekers. The archaeologists even invented new techniques of excavation and preservation as they went along. Just before the site was flooded, the almost completely intact hull was fully excavated, encased in polyurethane, and floated to shore for further study and conservation.

The boat is almost 27 feet long, just shy of eight feet wide, and roughly four and a half feet high. It was probably of the Sea of Galilee’s largest class of ships. Fore and aft sections were most likely decked and it had a mast, meaning it could be both sailed and rowed depending on the weather.

Evidence of repeated repairs suggested the boat had a long life. Studies of ancient ships suggest this vessel had a crew of five (four rowers and a helmsman). The ancient Jewish historian Josephus Flavius referred to such ships holding 15 people. Skeletal remains from Galilee during this period indicate males averaged five feet, five inches tall and roughly 140 pounds. Fifteen such men could fit into this vessel easily. So that begs the question did Jesus and His 12 men sail together in this boat?

IMG_2099.jpgThe race was on to preserve it, and won

The Galilee boat dated to the general time of Jesus’ ministry. It was the type used by Jesus and the Twelve, and was large enough to hold 13 men no problem. It could indeed have been in use at the same time He sailed the sea here, but Jesus cannot be connected to this particular boat with any degree of certainty. Yet, it does help us visualize daily life in Galilee, as Jesus knew it.

You can see the Jesus Boat at the Yigal Alon Center (operated by the Kibbutz Ginosar) on the western shore of the Sea of Tiberius. It’s something you should not miss and can only truly be appreciated when you see it in person. You’ll be treated to a fascinating video about the boat’s history, discovery, and trip to this museum. The gift shop has some amazing items about the boat as well. If you exit at the rear of the museum you’ll come out to the Sea of Galilee where you can take a boat ride on the same lake that Peter and his friends fished.

It’s all rather surreal when it sinks in that these men really lived here, droughts and storms and all, and used a boat just like this one. Perhaps the other amazing part of this story is how a drought gave life, maybe for the first time ever, to a kibbutz and their two fishermen named Moshe and Yuval. I think Peter and Andrew would approve. Be sure not to miss this once in a lifetime experience.

Like the thousands of fish taken with it, it’s a keeper!

 

 

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