The Law (and Promise) of Return

IMG_1881.JPGThe amphitheater at Caesarea on the coast of Israel

“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 (Deuteronomy 30:1-3).

 

On May 14, 2018, Israel celebrated its 70th anniversary.  In 1948, after 2,000 years of wandering, and many more under the rule of other nations, the Jews were back in their biblical homeland as the independent state of Israel.  This was a major turning point in history that cannot be underestimated, and it was also prophetic (Jeremiah 16:14-15).

Screenshot 2018-05-15 17.35.59.pngA little past 5PM on May 14, 1948, Israel is born!

Despite this statehood miracle, there were less than 725,000 Jews in Israel in 1948.  Today, however, there are over 8 million Jews in Israel, and in 2014, another landmark occurred––the number of Jews in Israel passed the number of Jews living in the rest of the world!  What fostered this dramatic population explosion that continues unabated today (Isaiah 11:11-12)?

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Ships packed with Jews coming home 

On July 5, 1950, the governing body of Israel, the Knesset, passed the Law of Return, which began with the remarkable words that would define the country’s core value:
“Every Jew has the right to immigrate to this country….”

Screenshot 2018-05-15 17.38.20.pngHome at last!

This law not only populated Israel, but it provided a safe haven from the anti-Semitism that peaked in Hitler’s Europe.  Despite overt opposition and wars, it’s been a remarkable catalyst to grow Israel and make her desert bloom around thriving, modern cities.  But can the Law of Return be solely responsible for this miracle?  Not hardly.  It was God, and His repeated promise in the Old Testament.

Watching these immigrants arrive at Ben Gurion Airport is like seeing a biblical prophecy unfold when you consider the prophecies of Jeremiah (16:15, 23:3,7-8, 30:1-11, 31:9, 33:7), Isaiah (43:5-6, 49:8-22, 54:7), and especially Ezekiel (11:17, 20:34, 28:25, 34:13, 37:21).

Screenshot 2018-05-15 17.43.42.pngA joyful arrival!

In chapter 37, Ezekiel had a vision of a valley filled with the dry bones of thousands of skeletons in open graves. These bones came together, grew flesh, and came to life.  God revealed that the dry bones symbolized Israel and her agonies of dispersion for rejecting Him.  The graves were gentile nations where they were banished, but they were only temporary, open graves.  The coming together of the resurrected bones is the prophetic restoration of the dispersed nation to its biblical homeland.

IMG_2923.JPGThe gates to the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem

At the 65thanniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Benjamin Netanyahu ended his speech by quoting Ezekiel 37:11-13 as being fulfilled!  This physical restoration of Israel is amazing, but the next verse promises more…a spiritual restoration.

Screenshot 2018-05-15 17.56.45.pngEzekiel’s vision

The Law of Return is part of a major turning point in history, but verse 14 will be the consummation of God’s promise for Israel when they finally recognize their Messiah (Ezekiel 36:26-28).  I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken and done it,” declares the Lord.’”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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155,000

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“…to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).

That’s the number of people who died today.  A sobering statistic, and worth repeating to let the enormity of it soak in…155,000 people died this very day (just imagine if Grand Rapids emptied overnight).

It made me wonder how many people die each day after my neighbor had a massive heart attack and suddenly died!  We were shocked and saddened, especially since as far as we knew he never let Jesus be his master.  I invited him to church once and he declined saying, “The walls would fall down.”

Another friend just got diagnosed with ovarian cancer and will be part of that 155,000 soon.  Luckily, she accepted Jesus in 1981 and can’t wait to see Him.  As I prayed for her healing, I wondered what Jesus’ wanted for her. Was it really better to stay here in a broken world, or as Paul said, “to die is gain.”  Wouldn’t Jesus rather have her in unimaginable bliss, as soon as possible, to shower her with the blessings He’s planned for centuries?

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When I thought on that, I had a massive paradigm shift.  For her and Jesus, death will be a precious introduction of inexpressible joy as they exchange first smiles.  Considering her death from His viewpoint, wanting her home, changed my prayers for her.  So if we are 100% sure that Jesus will welcome us as His precious possession, as she is convinced of–and not in fear as one who’s rejected His salvation–then death is an incredible gain!  This changes everything!  But can you be that confident, and really know for sure?

The Apostle John said that that was precisely why the Bible was written.  “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life (1 John 5:13).” So if Heaven can be a certainty, and is so much better, why not take her home yesterday?

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Peter answers, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).  His followers remain here as a compass pointing to True North, Jesus.  Unfortunately, most of the 56 million people who will die this year, like my neighbor, will politely ignore Jesus, just as He said:

 Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.  For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it (Matthew 7:13-14).

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So…are you in today’s 155,000?  I’m sure my neighbor didn’t think so.  Today may be your last chance, so why risk that when you can know for sure (Luke 12:20)?  The Lord waits patiently, but He won’t wait forever.  Why not make today what He wants for you…a real gain changer (2 Corinthians 6:2)?

 

 

 

 

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I Double Dog Dare Ya’!

Screenshot 2018-03-20 22.44.56.pngFlick and Ralphie

He began to teach again by the sea. And such a very large crowd gathered to Him that He got into a boat in the sea and sat down; and the whole crowd was by the sea on the land.  And He was teaching them many things in parables, and was saying to them in His teaching,  “Listen to this! Behold, the sower went out to sow; as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up.  Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil.  And after the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.  Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop.  Other seeds fell into the good soil, and as they grew up and increased, they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.” 

And He was saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables.  And He was saying to them, “To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, so that while seeing, they may see and not perceive, and while hearing, they may hear and not understand, otherwise they might return and be forgiven (Mark 4:1-12).

 

If I told you that 90% of American homes have indoor plumbing, but only 11% use it, would you think that odd?

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The Good Ol’ Days

According to LifeWay Research, 90% of Americans own a Bible, but only 11% have read the entire book. When I’ve asked people how much of it they’ve seriously read (and I’ve asked thousands) most admit less than 10%. Why is that?

Consider Jesus’ explanation, The sower sows the word. These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them.” According to Jesus, Satan is real and actively prevents you from hearing and understanding the Bible because he doesn’t want you to know God’s big mystery.

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Old Scratch (never closes his eyes)

Rather than give away Jesus’ big secret, let’s test His spiritual battle claim with a dare (Ephesians 6:12). Try to read the Gospel of John straight through (it’ll take two hours). No matter how hard you try, it will be nearly impossible. Give it a shot and wait to see the excuses and obstacles that just pop up. That’s Satan doing his job.

Here’s an easy link if you’re one of the 10% who don’t own a Bible in America:

The Gospel of John

Or maybe try reading just two small chapters with similar parables (Matthew 13, Luke 8), but I bet he’ll prevent you from reading these too. Hopefully I’m wrong and you finish John’s Gospel because then you’ll know Jesus’ big secret…if you have ears to hear.

A nice overview of John’s Gospel

Too busy?  Don’t care?  Afraid you won’t like His secret?  Then…I TRIPLE DOG DARE YA’!

 

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His Business is Picking Up

 

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 “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross (Colossians 2:13-14).”

 

Riddle me this: “Every Wednesday morning I appear, make it all disappear, including myself. What am I?” Another riddle, one every kid knows, may help you solve the first one. “What has six wheels and flies?”

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Frank, the best Riddler of all time

Once a week we put out the trash, all the ugly and disgusting things we create in a week that no longer have any value. Then this stranger rolls up in a massive truck and makes it all go away. Presto-chango, we’re clean again.

Spiritually, Jesus is the Garbage-Man. If we let Him, He rolls up and takes away our ugly, smelly trash, our “certificate of debt.” If He doesn’t pick it up, then we have to deal with it ourselves. With no waste agreement our trash remains. Some think it’s not a big pile; their trash isn’t that smelly; never raped or killed; they’re basically good.

But if you sin just once a day, after 70 years, your trashcan has 25,550 sins! Even a corrupt judge cannot ignore that record, but it’s not the degree of the sin, or the volume, it’s the fact that God is holy and His righteous character demands absolute perfection––holiness (Matthew 5:48, Habukkuk 1:13, James 2:10, Isaiah 59:2). God doesn’t grade on a curve.

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The face of Justice

Our overflowing trashcan proves nobody’s perfect, so holiness seems a cruel standard, but it is just to punish a lawbreaker. Sin must be punished, especially over 25,000 of them; otherwise God is a crooked judge (imagine if the MSU trial judge let Nassar go free).

Complicating this required justice and His standard of holiness is the fact that the Judge loves you, but He can’t just wince at your trash if He’s a good judge. Unless a full payment is made, He’s stuck…loving a lawbreaker that He must condemn. And we’re stuck too…how can anyone unholy pay the penalty for their own sin (Isaiah 64:6)?

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Fred, Fred old Cabbage-head

Enter the Garbage-Man. Jesus lived a sinless life to prove He was the perfect God-Man, and therefore qualified to pay our debt. An empty grave confirmed His death “cancelled out the certificate of debt. God’s love and righteous judgment merged in Jesus, our substitute. His last words on the cross were “It is finished, which also translates in Greek as “paid in full.”

Ignoring His payment offer is like telling your garbage-man not to come back. Don’t fool yourself that you’re clean enough to face a holy God without your trash picked up. Your best effort still doesn’t remove it. It’s piling up at the bottom of your driveway now. Only the God-Man can “take it out of the way,” but His waste agreement is total surrender (Isaiah 1:18, Luke 6:46). Remember, God does not grade on a curve…He grades on a curb.

 

 

 

 

 

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My Blind Mom, Plus Nothing

img_1422-copyA thankful Thanksgiving in our Detroit home (1966)

 

And Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind (John 9:39).”

 

My mom was legally blind. When she was 18, while sitting in church, her left eye went black, like a dark curtain descended. Can you imagine the terror?

The doctor said it was from a recent bout with Scarlet Fever. After several painful and unsuccessful operations, and a very long stay at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia, she decided to just live with a detached retina. Over the years, her right eye became strained and badly weakened.

Breveport Lake 1979After graduation with a fine catch (1979)

I grew up helping her to see price tags, clothing sizes, bus stops, addresses, ingredients, and even people. It was normal for me to be her eyes and when I turned 16 she was my excuse to get to drive our family car as her chauffeur. Being blind was our normal.

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Our church, St Martha’s Episcopal Church in Detroit, Michigan

Late in life, after going to church every Sunday, she finally realized religion wasn’t the answer. After teaching Sunday school, serving in the Altar Guild, and regular attendance, she still had no assurance of going to Heaven when she died. Then one day she heard Dr. J. Vernon McGee’s “Thru the Bible” radio program, and after he explained the gospel, she became a genuine believer! Although still physically blind, the eyes of her heart were opened and her life changed (Ephesians 1:18).

In John’s ninth chapter, Jesus heals a blind man who later believes in Him, but the religious experts did not believe He was God-in-the-flesh. They could physically see Him, but they were blind spiritually to His true identity. These Pharisees, who had memorized major portions of the Old Testament in order to obey over 600 written laws, and oral traditions that they made up, thought they were righteous because of what they did.

8-6-88 8My folks at our wedding (1988)

But Jesus told them they were blind. They had missed the point, which was Jesus Himself (Deuteronomy 18:15, Isaiah 53, John 5:39-47). They scoffed at His claim to be God, the Son of Man, because He healed on the Sabbath and violated one of their most holy rules not to work on the Sabbath. So what’s the point?

If you’re reading this then you’re not blind, but are you blind spiritually? If you think doing things (like the Pharisees) or church activities (like my mom) makes you right with God, you’ve missed the point of Jesus too. Consider “doing” versus “dying,” and Galatians 2:21 that says, “If righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”

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My mom (1924)

Thanks to McGee, my blind mom “saw” the truth of the gospel, plus nothing. If you’re not seeing Jesus, not 100% certain of Heaven, then maybe you need some J. Vernon too. Luckily, his “Thru the Bible” chats are still available online, but he no longer has any faith. He stopped using it on December 1, 1988 when he saw Jesus face to face, just like my mom who now sees Him perfectly too.

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Sick of Christmas

sam_1082Christmas card outtakes

“Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; hail the incarnate Deity, pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.”

Charles Wesley wrote those words in 1739 for a Christmas day hymn, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” The astonishing truth of what he wrote is sung every December with gusto around the world. It even made it into the best Christmas film ever, “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Specifically, that God miraculously took on human form, which makes complete sense if God (a spirit) wants to relate to us (flesh). If God wanted to communicate with ants, he’d become an ant, right?

Charles-Wesley_2546624bCharles Wesley (1707-1788)

But many people are sick of Christmas. Consider this actual Scrooge-like take on Christmas: “How long do we have to put up with this? I used to like Christmas when I was a kid, but now it just gets to be a drag. It’s just commercialism and nonsense now. What’s the point?”

Can you relate to that Charlie Brown-like query too? If it’s true for you, then you missed the point, and you’d do well to listen to Linus’ famous answer from the Bible again (Luke 2:8-14). His answer is Jesus’ birth, “veiled in flesh, the Godhead see,” and it’s an epiphany! If you don’t see God-in-the flesh in Christmas, “our Emmanuel,” then Christmas is a drag.

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The Gospel according to Schulz

But if Jesus is Who He said He was, as the Old Testament prophecies foretold (almost 400 of them!), and proved it by rising from the dead, then Christmas is the most historic event ever (before the resurrection)! It’s impossible some say, but they probably have not investigated from the Bible what Wesley’s Carol proclaims. The mystery of Christmas, and in it not being a drag, is in discovering who this baby was in Bethlehem.

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Basil Rathbone & Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Doyle’s master of solving a mystery, Sherlock Holmes, said “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” There’s not room here to make a complete proof for his Deity, but consider chapter 5 in Micah and John. No one has any control over where they will be born, unless they are God. The prophet Micah wrote this over 700 years before Jesus was born, referring to the birth of an eternal ruler in a tiny town in Israel:

“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.”

Jesus said as much to the Jews in John 5:39, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about Me.” And again in verse 46, “For if you believed in Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote of Me.”

The Lamb of God .jpgThe Cure

Jesus either lied, was crazy, or He was God. “Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing. O come let us adore Him.” That’ll cure your Christmas sickness.

 

 

 

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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?

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The Nudge personified

 

 

 

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