Why Be Thankful?

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Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!”

–King David (1 Chronicles 16)

On October 3, 1863, Abraham Lincoln did something radical that no American President would dare to do today…he declared a national holiday to thank God for His love and blessings on America, despite a raging Civil War with thousands of dead Americans.

Lincoln knew that we were forgetful and focus on the bad things in our lives. He wanted us to remember God’s true character ­­that He is good, loving, and sovereign. Lincoln knew we needed that reminder in a world broken by sin where people have the free will to choose to do horrible things (two months earlier, Gettysburg had over 50,000 casualties).

Despite our wickedness, God remains good and loving toward us. He proved that by sacrificing Jesus to save us (Romans 5:8). When we thank God for His many blessings, it changes our mindset to be positive despite our woes (Philippians 4:8). We are quick to forget that He is in charge and He will ultimately triumph over every wrong.

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After mentioning all the good things Americans could be thankful for as a nation, Lincoln went on to say this:

“The year that is drawing towards its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

“They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.

“I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.

“And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”

 

 

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What Does Satan Believe About Our Election?

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 “It’s better to go to funerals, than parties because Death is the end of every man and the living take it to heart.”    –King Solomon

On January 5, 1962, one of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes aired when I was not even a year old with Rod Sterling’s raspy introduction.

“An old woman living in a nightmare, an old woman who has fought a thousand battles with death and always won,” croaked the familiar voice. “Now she’s faced with a grim decision—whether or not to open a door. And in some strange and frightening way she knows that this seemingly ordinary door leads to the Twilight Zone.”

“Nothing in the Dark” told the story of an old woman who would not open her door for fear it would be Death, and if Death touched her she would die (Ironically, Death was played by Robert Redford, who is now 80 years old, and the role is quite reversed).

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What does this have to do with Satan and our polarizing presidential election? Everything. Like the magician’s ploy, it’s all misdirection so we don’t see the real trick.

Clive Staples Lewis wrote The Screwtape Letters in 1942 as a series of letters from an old, retired demon named Screwtape to his nephew, Wormwood, a neophyte demon still learning his job…how to distract us from our real issue of sin and death and judgment.

Here’s a sample of their scheme to keep us from our real problem, as sick patients:

My Dear Wormwood,

 Be sure that the patient remains completely fixated on politics. Arguments, political gossip, and obsessing on the faults of people they have never met serves as an excellent distraction from advancing in personal virtue, character, and the things the patient can control.

 Make sure to keep the patient in a constant state of angst, frustration, and general disdain towards the rest of the human race in order to avoid any kind of charity or inner peace from further developing.

 Ensure the patient continues to believe that the problem is “out there” in the “broken system” rather than recognizing there is a problem with himself.

 Keep up the good work,

Uncle Screwtape

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So fight and argue about “people you’ve never met,” and ignore the real issue that if you die in your sins tonight, without the saving grace of Jesus Christ’s death as your payment, you will be lose much, much more than an election.

As Jesus Said, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”

Here’s the 1965 episode link: Nothing in the Dark

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The Wait is Over!

SAM_1082.JPG Outtakes from our Christmas newsletter

I wait for the Lord, my soul does wait, and in His word do I hope. My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning.”  –King David (Psalm 130)

You’ve heard it said, “Death and taxes,” but I think we can add one more certainty in life…no one likes to wait. No one. Especially at Christmas when gifts flood our living rooms on December 25th.

In the Old Testament this is a very common theme, to “wait for the Lord.” Wait for what? Technically it’s on His coming through for you because of His love and goodness toward you, but the culmination of that was in His coming to Bethlehem (Matthew 1:23).

As Isaiah prophesied about 700 years before the Star appeared in Israel’s tiny town, the wait would finally end on the first Christmas:

“BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.”

The One waited for, for thousands of years by the Jewish people, arrived, in the flesh, as a tiny baby boy. Literally God in the flesh! His miracle birth goes back all the way to the very beginning in Genesis with Abram’s promise (Genesis 12:3),

“…. in you all the nations of the earth will be blessed.”

In the line of Abraham’s descendents, the Jews, God Himself would appear and save the world by blessing “all the nations” with a second chance. Forgiveness of all our sins. God sealed the salvation covenant with Abraham by walking through a cut up sacrificial animal. He literally “cut a deal” with Abraham (us) based on death and blood (Genesis 15).

Most objections to Jesus being the promised Messiah, Immanuel (God with us), as a human being cite biblical logic…all men are sinners and therefore the man Jesus could not be God. A logical objection that we experience daily since we have all sinned (Roman 3:23).

But in the objection is an objection to itself.

If all men are sinners (agreed we have all failed God’s standard), then we are prone to error, mistakes, and wrong reasoning. Namely, if God wants to appear to us as a mouse or a kumquat or a donkey…He has the right and power to do so.

Coming to us as a human being would seem to be the most logical way to communicate His ways and desires for us as one Himself. If He wanted to communicate with ants, He’d come as an ant, right?

And furthermore, if He came to break the death sentence of Sin, to end the blessing wait “for all nations,” it would be a perfect form to meet the requirements of the Passover sacrifice as a perfect lamb to be killed, providing He did live a perfect life.

The Christmas deal that God cut with His own blood, from Abraham to Bethlehem to the cross means the wait is over, but like all Christmas gifts you have to receive it.

aslan“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 (John 1:12).”

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God’s Odds

IMG_1919.JPGThe Med and aqueduct ruins in Caesarea 2016

 

Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done(Isaiah 46:10).”

Did you know that you have a better chance to become President than winning the lottery (10 million to one)? It’s true, but what are the odds of predicting the future?

God says He sees the end before the beginning…every time! Let’s look at one of His prophecies from 590 B.C. about the city of Tyre in Ezekiel chapter 26.

“Therefore thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I am against you, O Tyre, and I will bring up many nations against you, as the sea brings up its waves. ‘They will destroy the walls of Tyre and break down her towers; and I will scrape her debris from her and make her a bare rock. ‘She will be a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea, for I have spoken,’ declares the Lord God, ‘and she will become spoil for the nations.”

“For thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I will bring upon Tyre from the north Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, king of kings, with horses, chariots, cavalry and a great army.”

“Also they will make a spoil of your riches and a prey of your merchandise, break down your walls and destroy your pleasant houses, and throw your stones and your timbers and your debris into the water.”

“I will make you a bare rock; you will be a place for the spreading of nets. You will be built no more, for I the Lord have spoken,” declares the Lord God.”

“Then all the princes of the sea will go down from their thrones, remove their robes and strip off their embroidered garments. They will clothe themselves with trembling; they will sit on the ground, tremble every moment and be appalled at you.”

Ezekiel prophesies Tyre’s destruction with these specifics:

  1. Nebuchadnezzar will conquer Tyre.
  2. Other nations will take part in its destruction.
  3. Tyre will be flat like the top of a rock.
  4. Tyre will become a place to spread nets.
  5. Tyre’s stones and timber will be laid in the sea.
  6. Other cities will fear because of Tyre’s destruction.
  7. Tyre won’t be rebuilt.

It all came to pass when Nebuchadnezzar laid siege in 586 B.C., and then Alexander the Great finished it off 241 years later. According to Dr Peter W. Stoner in Science Speaks, “The odds of this happening are 75 million to one.”

My point? Buy a Bible, not a lottery ticket.

 

 

 

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Still Celebrating Christmas?

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“…and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5:5).”

Sometimes when the holidays end we experience a bit of an emotional downer; that rosy carol-infested time of yuletide bliss gives way to just a cold and dreary January. Well, there’s a way to keep that same holiday hope permanently, as when Scrooge’s nephew Fred says it to be,

“…a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”

Or as Scrooge puts it so succinctly after his spirited conversion,

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”

Without the Person of Christmas, in our heart, our hearts are shut up tight. Keeping Christmas, maintaining that joy of the Incarnation of Bethlehem, means inviting Him into your heart…permanently.

As Paul says, in Romans 5:5, in order to have that “hope that does not disappoint,” God’s love must enter your heart in the gift of “the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” That’s what Jesus meant when He said that we must be born again in John 3:3,

Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with Him.”

 Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?”

 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”

Everyone is born physically, when your mom’s water breaks. That is the first birth, by water. The second is what Scrooge experienced, a spiritual change of heart where you are born a second time by the Holy Spirit entering your heart.

The key to keeping Christmas all the year is in having Jesus inside of your body, literally inside of you, in the form of the Holy Spirit. That’s what makes you a Christian…when you open your shut-up heart to the Holy Spirit to come inside of you. It’s also what makes Christmas a daily celebration all year.

 

 

 

 

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Dust Two Dust

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The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. “Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?” They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court. Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more. – John 8

Ever wonder what Jesus wrote in the dust (twice)? Perhaps it was Gomer.

In Hosea, the prophet is told to marry an adulteress named Gomer to illustrate the infidelity of Israel to God, her spiritual husband. A Gomer stood before Jesus now, as guilty of violating God’s Law as Israel was in Hosea’s marriage imagery. Ironically, all of her accusers were Gomers too! They were an entire nation of Gomers. So maybe writing Gomer was a reminder for whom He came to ransom, just like this sinful woman he forgave.

Perhaps He wrote Jeremiah 17:13 next. It was read during Yom Kippur (“ransom of a life” in Hebrew), the holiest day of the year. The Hebrew translation says:

“Oh YHWH, the Immerser (baptizer) of Israel, all those who leave your way shall be put to shame (embarrassed publicly), those who turn aside from my ways will have their names written in the dust and blotted out, for they have departed from YHWH, the fountain of Mayim Hayim (the waters of life).”

During Yom Kippur, the High Priest bathed in the Mikveh bath symbolizing the One who would come as “the” Mikveh bath for Israel to wash away her sins permanently. Then, once a year, he entered the Holy of Holies and sprinkled the blood of the sacrificed goat on the Ark of the Covenant’s Mercy Seat. Finally, he placed his hands on another goat, a scapegoat, transferring Israel’s sins from him onto it before banishment to die in the wilderness (Leviticus 16). Every year it reminded Gomer that she needed to be ransomed, but it’s no longer necessary now (Hebrews 10). Why?

 Because in Hebrew Gomer means, “finished,” as the final High Priest said on the cross, “It is finished (John 19:30).” He died as the final ransom “that takes away the sins of the world.” Sinful Gomer cost Him everything, but don’t judge prostitute Israel too harshly like the woman’s accusers. There are two Gomers in the dust…all the rest of us.

The tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews explains it very succinctly:

For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near.  Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins?  But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year.  For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says,
“SACRIFICE AND OFFERING YOU HAVE NOT DESIRED,
BUT A BODY YOU HAVE PREPARED FOR ME;

IN WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND sacrifices FOR SIN YOU HAVE TAKEN NO PLEASURE.

“THEN I SAID, ‘BEHOLD, I HAVE COME
(IN THE SCROLL OF THE BOOK IT IS WRITTEN OF ME)
TO DO YOUR WILL, O GOD.’”

After saying above, “SACRIFICES AND OFFERINGS AND WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND sacrifices FOR SIN YOU HAVE NOT DESIREDNOR HAVE YOU TAKEN PLEASURE in them” (which are offered according to the Law), then He said, “BEHOLD, I HAVE COME TO DO YOUR WILL.”  He takes away the first in order to establish the second.  By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.  And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying,

“THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THEM
AFTER THOSE DAYSSAYS THE LORD:
WILL PUT MY LAWS UPON THEIR HEART,
AND ON THEIR MIND I WILL WRITE THEM,”
He then says,

“AND THEIR SINS AND THEIR LAWLESS DEEDS
WILL REMEMBER NO MORE.”

Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.

The point is this…you need to give up trying to be good.  You’re not.  You’re a Gomer if you think you’re good enough.  As James said in James 2:10, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.”  It’s a total surrender, unless you are perfect.  So give up.  You can never be good enough.  Otherwise, Jesus’ death was needless (Galatians 2:21).

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The Land of the Bible

It was almost a year ago that I went to Israel with my wife for two weeks on a writing assignment for the Israel Ministry of Tourism.  What an experience!  Israel is a magical place and just one visit will not suffice.  It has taken up several spots on my Bucket List.  You’ll never read the Bible the same way again.

Be sure to go, and if you do consider using  Pilgrim Tours (Morgantown, PA).  It was the absolute BEST company to use for this memorable trip.  Our guides were Messianic Jews and gave us a very unique perspective on this astounding Land of the Bible.  In almost two weeks we squeezed in most of the major biblical sites.  Every day was a jaw-dropper!

Below is Caesarea on the Med where Paul gave his defense in Acts 26.  I read that same section aloud in this theatre…spine tingler!

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This selfie is from the Cardo Maximus (Main Street) at Beit Shean, one of the Decapolis Cities and prior to that where King Saul and his sons were hung naked and headless on the city gates by the Philistines.

The mound in the distance is a tel, a layered ruin of all the prior civilizations on this site over thousands of years.  An earthquake left this Roman city in near perfect shape as no one would live here again for fear of another quake.  It could have happened yesterday for as pristine as it is today.

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And en route to Masada, an amazing stop, we had a reminder of His promise (not to flood the world again) over the Dead Sea (that white edge on the shoreline is salt!).  A rugged desert area where David hid from Saul.

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At the Western Wall in Jerusalem, all that remains of Herod’s Temple, thanks to the Romans in 70 A.D.  It was a real highlight in Jerusalem in 2016, but not so much in 70 A.D.  Going underground and seeing the tunnels was remarkable too (you can still see the burnt stone down there from the fires Titus’ men started in its destruction.  The Western Wall (Wailing) is basically a retaining wall that held the Temple Mount above it where the Temple sat.  Sad, but exciting too.

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The Queen of Israel under an arch at the Caesarea Aqueduct.  Herod used these miles of stonework to bring water to his palace here.  That little man whispering in my ear is telling me to move here.  Today Israel, for the first time, has over 8 million Jews in Israel…the most ever in Israel.

Looking at the prophecies of Jeremiah (23:3,7-8, 30:10, 31:9, 33:7), Isaiah (49:8-22, 43:5-6, 54:7), and Ezekiel (11:17, 20:34, 28:25, 34:13, 37:21) help us understand that this is massive migration is from God, especially Ezekiel 37.

“When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the Lord your God disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. He will bring you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors. The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live (Deuteronomy 31:1-5).

Consider Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech at the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in Poland when he closed with Ezekiel’s vision and quoted chapter 37:11-13 as fulfilled,

“Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, ‘Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!’ Therefore prophesy and say to them, thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves.”

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This IMOT website posts my articles (104 of them) and updates the three every few weeks.  It was intended for pastors, but I’m sure you’ll find some helpful hints for your trip.  Figure on about $5000 for two for a ten day trip, but worth $10,000 for a five day trip!

http://www.land-of-the-bible.com

Merry Christmas! (Genesis 12:3)

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